On the same day VMware said it would roll out its public cloud, the company also announced plans to release software that virtualizes networks with help from Nicira’s Network Virtualization Platform product, in another example of the company’s shift beyond server hypervisors as its chief innovation.
It also marks VMware’s commitment to working with other players in the industry regardless of the underlying hypervisor and even networking protocols they might be using, as it seeks to move up the software stack in the data center.
VMware’s NSX software, which draws from the company’s existing vCloud Networking and Security software in addition to the Nicira offering, will let customers spin up virtual switches, firewalls, routers and other network elements in conjunction with hypervisors, regardless of whether they come from VMware. The NSX controller cluster will expand or contract customers’ virtual networks in harmony with changes in computing power that are reported by way of northbound API requests, according to a VMware blog post describing the many abilities of the new software.
NSX will ship in the second half of 2013, about a year after VMware said it would buy Nicira for $1.26 billion. Nicira has not named more than a handful of customers, large though they may be, and now its software-defined networking innovations could enter many more data centers.
Gains for VMware with NSX could negatively impact Cisco, F5, Riverbed and other vendors of network appliances that take time to deploy and can’t scale as quickly as modern storage and compute resources. It also puts VMware in competition with the ecosystem that Big Switch is trying to build around OpenFlow and its own controller software called Floodlight.
Big Switch open sourced Floodlight in January, and several startups and a few large companies are building products using that software. So while VMware is opening up to other hypervisors and promising customers that it will support a variety of protocols including OpenFlow, it is building its software-defined data centers play around a closed system.
That’s not a bad thing, and VMware’s ability to offer tested integration and the possibility of a more controlled experience will undoubtedly win over some customers, especially those already using VMware’s software. Meanwhile the more open approach from Big Switch will win its own adherents. With a $35 billion market cap, VMware has to not only keep innovating beyond its core business, but it also needs to protect its IP and margins while selling more software. The NSX product and strategy offers a way to do this. Now we just need to wait and see if customers bite.
Stacey Higginbotham contributed to this report.