Three Bits of Advice from Discussing the Impact of VMware’s NSX at VMworld

Mike Fratto
Mike Fratto

Summary Bullets:

  • Networking vendors need to embrace homogeneity and provide frictionless integration with virtual environments. Your value add occurs below the hypervisor layer.
  • Networking vendors—any vendor for that matter—should integrate with as many platforms as possible. Remove a barrier to adoption and you’ll reach a wider audience.

Embrace homogeneity. While walking the expo floor at VMworld last week, I spent a lot of time talking to vendors about software defined networking and what VMware’s NSX platform meant. There’s a surprising amount of confusion about what SDN is and how vendors can make the most of it, but the simplest way I can make sense of NSX is homogeneity. Server virtualization and all the processes make a data center dynamic like VM motions, robust storage, and scale-up/in/out architectures rely on running VMs being oblivious to what is happening underneath them. The virtual world is homogenous. It doesn’t matter if the CPU is from Intel or AMD. It doesn’t matter if the storage is FC or iSCSI based. Regardless of where a VM runs, the platform it sees is the same. That enables enterprises to swap out a FC SAN with an iSCSI array with nary a hiccup in the VM.

Networking vendors need to embrace homogeneity—that’s my first bit of advice—and present the most homogenous network to the virtual environment they can. By being homogenous, enterprises can swap out networking with far less disruption than having to deal with proprietary or advanced features. Presenting a homogenous face to the virtual environment also means network vendors can reduce the friction that occurs in replacing an existing vendor. Stickiness—that property making a vendor switch difficult—can come from heterogeneous hooks that make switching technically and needlessly complex or it can come from better feature sets. The former annoys customers while the latter makes them happy. Money from an annoyed customer spends just as well as from a happy customer, but a happy customer is far more valuable.

Does homogeneity mean switching becomes a commodity? Absolutely not! Nearly every networking vendor I have spoken with has an offering which is differentiated from their competitors. The amount of differentiation varies, of course, but it’s there. Those differences—the features that make one networking product line a better fit for a given customer—are what’s valuable to customers.

Here’s my second bit of advice. Don’t try to differentiate at the integration layer between the virtual environment and your products. It’s tempting to improve what you perceive are deficiencies in the integration layer but the risk is that you introduce lumpiness that ultimately complicates operations for your customer. Present a homogenous interface. The virtual environment shouldn’t need any software or special configuration from you to work well. The virtual environment should be blissfully unaware of what the network is doing and your networking gear should work exactly the same as any other networking gear.

Is VMware going to remain king of server virtualization and dominate in private clouds? I don’t know but that market seems fairly ripe for disruption. I don’t think there’s a single dominant vendor in private cloud software, so here’s my parting advice. Integrate with multiple virtual environments from the likes of CloudStack, Microsoft, OpenStack, and VMware and keep it as simple as possible. Promote the value you bring to virtual environments without altering the integration layer. Don’t be lumpy.



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