VMware’s big hype for VMworld 2013 in San Francisco was all about bringing software-defined data center capabilities to market. Since the compute aspect of the data center has pretty advanced virtualization capabilities (i.e., “software-defined”) that meant the primary focus was on advancing the network and storage capabilities. While VMware’s storage announcements help meet that goal, in general they were not as far along as the networking aspect and sound a lot like what Microsoft has been doing with their recent releases. The networking capabilities they announced with their NSX capabilities look more mature and potentially ready for deployment in the right situation.
NSX is really the next logical evolution for VMware. Given their dominance in compute virtualization they would like to extend that dominant position to the rest of the data center. They pretty much announced their direction and intent last year with the Nicira acquisition and a pretty similar set of directional statements at VMworld 2012. This year we got more details of how things will really work.
At a high level, NSX is focused on taking over “east-west” network traffic as they described the traffic between VMs that pass through the networking infrastructure. VMware claimed that as much as 60% to 70% of network traffic is traffic between VMs with the remainder being the traffic between the VMs/data center and the external network (i.e., “north-south” traffic). NSX capabilities will include virtual switch, router, firewall and load balancer capabilities. VMware is using a fusion of their existing vSphere vSwitch and the Nicira technology in the solution. It actually consists of two products, NSX for vSphere and NSX for multiple hypervisors.
Currently, the network is often the bottleneck when it comes to dynamic workload placement. Moving a workload from one host to another hypervisor, including storage, can be done in a matter of minutes. However, if network reconfiguration is required, this can often require days to complete. NSX provides complete network stack encapsulation over the existing Layer 3 physical network. This provides an opportunity to move the network to the same level of encapsulation as compute and storage, allowing snapshotting, rollback and cloning along with the potential to provision or reconfigure in a matter of minutes.
But VMware’s NSX announcement does raise a number of interesting questions. Some of these key questions and initial thoughts are provided below.
* How does NSX impact physical network architecture? Should customers rethink their basic network design?
* This could change the primary goal of physical network design to be focused on high-availability and performance, not necessarily on application traffic segregation anymore.
· How to do you manage and monitor the comprehensive network health and performance?
* Who is responsible for the network issues?
* Network engineers and admins will still be needed, all the protocol alphabet soup is still there when it comes to configuration and interop.
* How fast will the software be adopted versus other efforts such as OpenFlow?
* It is likely to have faster adoption for a number of reasons:
o NSX will have no dependence on physical switches
o No multi-vendor compatibility issues
o Complete control over the inner protocols and implementation
o Functionality will be built-in the hypervisor
* Where is the competition relative to VMware?
* VMware has leaped over Microsoft once again. Microsoft brought interesting networking solution with in Hyper-V v3 in Server 2012, but those look a lot less advanced compared to NSX.
* How Will VMware expose virtualization monitoring and management capabilities for NSX?
* This was not clear from the VMworld 2013 and is still an open question
* Some diagnostic tools were demonstrated but to be successful those capabilities need to be integrated with existing solutions.
* vCOps will be updated to provide visibility at both levels, but it's not clear how soon that will be available.
In summary, the virtual networking capability is an impressive innovation brought forward by VMware. As any new disruptive technology brought to the market place, it comes with its set of questions and uncertainties. It now potentially puts VMware in control of the last technology pillar that is needed to make the SDDC a reality. Vendors like SolarWinds will monitor those changes and ensure that their existing and future customers maximize their investments in those new technologies while still relying on their monitoring and management solution to provide them the insight they need.