VMware: Software-Defined Networking Without 'Rip And Replace'

NSX software will overlay existing hardware to produce virtual networks, says VMware networking CTO Martin Casado.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

August 27, 2013

3 Min Read

VMware's CTO of networking, Martin Casado, sought Monday to counter claims that VMware's networking platform, NSX, means customers need to rip out and replace their existing networks.

Casado, author of the original OpenFlow protocol while a graduate student at Stanford, speaks with some authority on software-defined networking, the latest addition to VMware's notion of the software-defined data center. He became CTO of networking after VMware purchased his company, Nicira Networks, for $1.26 billion.

The rip-and-replace debate is one already established in traditional versus software-defined networking circles, but Casado said that's putting the focus in the wrong place.

"NSX automates what's already there. You get the best possible network out of the physical infrastructure," he said as one four VMware spokesman at a post-keynote press conference at VMworld, held this week at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

[ Want to learn more about VMware's recent ups and downs? See Don't Count VMware Out In Rough Seas. ]

Casado said NSX does not require a set of new network equipment. It's a layer of software that overlies the existing network, giving it a new data plane, control plane and management plane. Through the control plane, network administrators can issue instructions that assign portions of the network to different virtual machines and give those logical networks different characteristics, as needed, for throughput or security.

"The physical network still stays around, but the care and feeding of it gets more complex," Casado said in response to questions at the press conference. Suppliers of switches and routers and other network equipment will still be the primary suppliers of tools to manage the physical network, he said. But pooling network resources, subdividing them into logical networks and assigning them unique characteristics will be the function of the networking software layer.

VMware borrowed heavily from its own hypervisor's software distributed switch and Nicira's Network Virtualization Platform to create NSX. "Networks should have the same properties as virtualized computing when it comes to management," Casado explained. By that he meant the resource should be managed as a sub-dividable pool of networking resources that can be configured according to preset policies. The approach disrupts previous network management with a more flexible set of management tools. But it is "non-disruptive" to the hardware network.

"How do you explain the new layer 'thingie' to the CEO?" asked a questioner.

"In virtual networking, the answer is agility. We'll reduce to zero the cost of getting new services up and running," Casado answered. "In the product cycle, we'll answer the question, 'How do we get to market quickly?'"

Ragu Raghuram, executive VP of cloud infrastructure and management, said NSX is a major component that had been missing from VMware's vision of a software-defined data center. With both NSX and vSAN, VMware's approach to virtualized storage, still in beta, "the major components are in place, the foundation is there. Having said that, we still have a world of development work ahead."

VMware is aiming for a single "programmatic interface to all of them," and will work over the next several years to make what can be done with that interface "richer and richer," he said.

In his keynote address earlier in the day, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger said VMware customers had adopted virtualization in their data centers and succeeded in virtualizing 40% of their applications, including "mission critical production systems" such as database systems. But he said that figure wasn't high enough. "We're trying to get it to 50%," he reported.

The name, NSX, is meant to suggest the new software platform will do for the network what ESX Server did for server consolidation and management, Gelsinger told the crowd. Network Computing writer Greg Ferro described how the network hypervisor approach will work.

VMware spokesmen estimated 22,000 attendees will show up for VMworld, in its tenth edition, this year.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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