VMware NSX At Upcoming VMworld: Public Cloud And Container Demos, Improving Cisco Relationship

VMware plans to make the case for expanding the reach of its NSX software-defined networking technology, including showing how customers can use it to take workloads to the cloud, at this month's VMworld conference in Las Vegas.

The plans include demonstrating NSX working on a public cloud and showing support for native container systems, said Rajiv Ramaswami, executive vice president and general manager for VMware's Networking and Security business unit.

Ramaswami also told CRN that VMware will use VMworld to increase its commitment to channel partners working with NSX, and will highlight how NSX works with the competing ACI software-defined networking technology from partner and sometime-rival Cisco.

[Related: VMware Expands Deal Registration Program, Incentives, To Push Software-Defined Data Center Tech]

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Ramaswami took over the NSX business in February after the departure of Martin Casado, the founder of Nicira, which developed the NSX technology before VMware's 2012 acquisition of Nicira.

VMworld will show VMware's vision of bringing NSX to whatever data center platforms customers use, not just on VMware's own technology, Ramaswami said.

"Our vision is NSX is everywhere," he said. "Today, NSX is primarily focused on vSphere. But NSX is really hypervisor-independent. We currently offer similar capabilities across hypervisors. Some of our earliest customers were running KVM."

VMworld will see NSX running in a public cloud, most likely on Amazon, Ramaswami said.

"Today, NSX runs on-premises or on vCloud," he said. "We want to extend it to customers running workloads natively on Amazon or other public clouds, and across all hypervisors. We'll talk about it at VMworld, and have a tech preview."

However, Ramaswami said, VMware is not ready to announce general availability of NSX on Amazon or other public cloud platforms.

NSX is also a logical extension for container technology and it currently supports hypervisor-based containers, Ramaswami said. "Over time, it will be expanded to support native containers," he said. "Most containers today run inside the hypervisor and use the hypervisor for security and other capabilities."

General availability of NSX for native containers is still to be determined, Ramaswami said.

NSX and network virtualization in general has broad applicability, Ramaswami said. For now, the use cases are primarily in micro-segmentation, particularly for security, as well as to automate clouds and provide application continuity and disaster recovery, he said.

"Think of NSX as in the second inning of a nine-inning ball game," he said. "It's established. It's scaling. And we're investing in the channel to make it easier to sell and to help partners focus on micro-segmentation because the channel is heavily involved in security."

NSX has already proven itself in micro-segmentation and software-defined data centers, said Ron Flax, vice president and chief technology officer at August Schell, a Rockville, Md.-based solution provider, which has been partnering with Nicira's software-defined technology before it was acquired by VMware and renamed NSX.

"Security is a big part of our business and NSX has been making big inroads with customers because of micro-segmentation," Flax told CRN. "We've been working on software-defined data centers for customers looking to provide self-service solutions in VMware environments."

VMware first quietly showed NSX working in Amazon Web Services environments at last year's VMworld conference, Flax said.

"VMware is now adding automation to NSX, and making it possible to run NSX in containers, virtual machines, cloud instances, anywhere," he said. "To do this, VMware will have to de-couple NSX from its vCenter solution. Today it is still coupled to vCenter. But VMware wants it to run independent from vCenter."

The moves by VMware to let NSX operate in any customer environment will expand the market for partners like August Shell, Flax said.

VMware needs to show NSX is ready to run in non-vSphere environments, especially for government clients where moving away from a VMware-only stack is important to reduce expenses, he said.

"We've already been promoting this in a clandestine way with our customers," he said. "But it's hard to get people to listen when you don't have something to show them."

GreenPages is already having success with customer implementations featuring VMware NSX in micro-segmentation and cloud automation deployments, said Ron Dupler, CEO of the Kittery, Me.-based solution provider.

"We're seeing customers looking forward to seeing how VMware will bring virtual networks to public clouds," Dupler told CRN.

The automation and other capabilities of VMware NSX are important to cloud service providers, said one solution provider who preferred to remain anonymous.

"However, most customers set up their virtual machines at one time, and add virtual machines periodically," the solution provider said. "So orchestration and automation, while interesting, is not something a lot of customers deal with yet."

Ramaswami, when asked about how VMware's NSX technology works versus Cisco's ACI technology in networking deployments, said the two vendors want to do what's right for customers.

ACI is a great technology for managing physical networks, while NSX is the best technology for managing virtual networking, he said.

"In many deployments, the underlying network infrastructure is Cisco because of that company's market share," he said. "Customers have been using Cisco for the physical networking layer. They can run ACI to manage the physical hardware, and then run NSX to automate the virtualization layer and handle micro-segmentation.

Cisco wants to move up the stack and over time will do more on the virtualization layer, Ramaswami said. "There will be some Cisco shops that go full-Cisco," he said. "But it's important to understand that NSX has more visibility in the hypervisor, and is better at the virtual networking functions."

Flax said he has seen the relationship between VMware and Cisco improve recently, although part of that could be how important the two are to each other.

"Cisco had the most success in the data center when it was co-sold with VMware and EMC technology," he said. "Cisco going in and having a knife fight with VMware would not be good. The two technologies work well together. NSX needs a physical base and is easier to operationalize when the hardware is set. NSX adds control at the top of the network, while ACI lets you manipulate the hardware."

Dupler said the best thing that could happen to solution providers in the data center would be a sane approach to software-defined networking between VMware and Cisco.

"We're not seeing it at the field level yet, but it is happening at the executive level," Dupler said. "It's long overdue."

The anonymous solution provider said that Cisco customers are more likely to work with Cisco ACI than with VMware NSX.

"Cisco reps tell us they are happy to work with NSX, but see ACI as growing faster," the solution provider said.

Channel partner opportunities for NSX will only grow in the future, Ramaswami said. Partners today are primarily focused on fulfillment, but VMware is developing new certification programs, training programs, deal registration programs, and services opportunities, he said.

"Last quarter, VMware also acquired Arkin," he said. "Arkin helps partners do pre-sales assessments. The technology looks at customer requirements, including security, and provides data center visibility after deployment."

VMware in May also launched three new NSX SKUs, including Standard, Advanced, and Enterprise additions, with pricing starting as low as $1,995 per CPU socket, Ramaswami said. "This provides more flexibility to sell the solution," he said.