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Summary:

VMware’s counting on its Nicira purchase to help it take its virtualization credibility from servers to networks. The launch of an ecosystem and new features around the NSX controller show it’s getting serious.

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The big news out of VMworld this morning is its NSX networking controller and the ecosystem designed to support it. With the launch, VMware is bringing together its Nicira purchase and promises it made when it bought the controller startup, but it’s also opening up in a way that could help it face its existential crisis– how to support proprietary software and high license fees in an era where the biggest market hates both and will go around you.

It’s been more than a year since VMware said it would spend more than $1 billion buying software controller, Nicira. The deal was notable because it was huge and brought software-defined networking into the mainstream, but with the launch of new ecosystem around networking, VMware’s playing nice not just with the large players, but smaller ones even those that might have been considered competitors.

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The gist of the news is that VMware NSX will be the platform for network virtualization much like ESX and then Vsphere were the platform for server virtualization. VMware’s offering a slew of features including provisioning, a scalable software-based firewall and load balancing. But it’s also opening up the system to a variety of partners, form traditional network equipment vendors like Riverbed and F5 to newcomers like Cumulus and Arista.

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Bringing in vendors such as Cumulus is a nod to the growing power of the webscale companies that wouldn’t never use VMware’s hypervisor or management software. Enterprise customers are looking at efforts like Facebook’s Open Compute Foundation and wondering how to lower their own costs and create those same highly efficient, scalable and flexible environments. If VMware can offer a credible product that looks both scalable and modular on the networking side, it might keep enterprise customers happy and even win over new ones.

Speaking of customers, VMware is touting both Citi and eBay as buyers of its NSX platform, although eBay was a Nicira customer prior to the VMware buy. And like many big software launches, the full suite isn’t going to be out at launch. People have to wait until the fourth quarter to purchase this.

There will be several other announcements at VMworld related to VMware’s other products outside of networking. VMware’s bread-and-butter server virtualization product, vSphere 5.5, which was previewed at last year’s show but is now generally available, claims better support for both new big data and legacy business applications.

It incorporates big data extensions based on VMware’s Project Serengeti work to make it easier to deploy Hadoop atop VMware, said John Gilmartin, VP of cloud infrastruture products. The big data extensions will be included with the vSphere 5.5 Enterprise and Enterprise Plus versions and with vCloud Suite 5.5, also available now.

The new release will also offer better support for enterprise-y SAP and Oracle applications, he said. It will double the amount of logical cores supported to 320 from 160; double the amount of memory supported to 4 TB from 2 TB and will support 3,096 virtual CPUs, up from 2,040, Gilmartin said. VMware’s getting there when it comes to building a credible software defined data center. Let’s see if it can do it at a price point and margin profile that keeps its customers and its shareholders happy.

–with additional reporting by Barb Darrow

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  1. So what’s their strategy here? Are they trying to provide products across the whole range of data center stack – network up to visualized servers so that customers can buy (and get support from) a single vendor? That makes sense if they’re integrating with 3rd party vendors. Or could they be trying to get adoption in the lower part of the stack so that once someone is using NSX, they naturally consider ESX/vSphere to power their servers?

    I wonder how this would play out if they switched to an open source model for the NSX layer, in order to drive adoption and compete with open compute. Powering the networking layer would make selling the server layer much more compelling.

    1. You seem to frame strategy here as a way to make money, instead of a way to provide what customers are asking for and need. Is that what you mean?

      I would think this page sums up the intention of how VMware (we) intend to help our customers:

      http://www.vmware.com/software-defined-datacenter/index.html?src=WWW_SDDC%20_US_HPHero_VirtualizeYourDataCenter

    2. The idea is you buy NSX but can choose form any number of pre-integrated products that cover a wide variety of needs. Certification requires a little work but no fees to VMware. VMware is supporting other hypervisors with NSX so I think of NSX more as the new vSphere, only it plays nicely with more options.

  2. As I talked to some customers at the conference they were concerned that Cisco hadn’t signed on to VMware’s NSX vision. They were uncomfortable that the largest player in hardware networking hadn’t bought in to the vision and wondered out loud how that would affect their design decisions.

    This by far was the minority. It is a VMware user/partner conference so the NSX juice was in ample supply. But, it does make me wonder about Cisco’s network virtualization plans.

  3. Stacey Higginbotham Thursday, August 29, 2013

    Hey Keith, we all wonder about Cisco’s virtualization’s plans :) For now I’d watch Open Daylight as the biggest indicator of where Cisco will go.

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