6 Ways VMware Is Trying To Get A Leg Up On Cisco In SDN

SDN Battle Lines Drawn

VMware and Cisco were close partners for a long time, but in a relatively short time, they've devolved into the Hatfields and McCoys of the data center. And according to partners on both sides, this skirmish is quickly morphing into a full-blown philosophical dispute.

VMware got its SDN product to market first, while Cisco's has been slow to market. Following are some examples of how VMware is trying to capitalize on its head start.

VMware's Speedy NSX Channel Rollout

VMware has rolled out NSX to the channel quickly, launching its first formal reseller program in February with a set of 14 ’Elite’ partners around the world that already were up to speed on SDN. Then in June, VMware revealed pricing for NSX and began selling it through distribution.

VMware in August launched a certification program for partners that have the technical chops to install, configure and manage NSX. In October, VMware unveiled its NSX Network Virtualization Competency, a comprehensive program that goes from entry-level certification all the way up to the most advanced certification, VCDX-NV.

VMware Is Hiring Big-Name SDN Talent

In the past couple of months VMware has made some key hires to boost its SDN expertise.

Guido Appenzeller (pictured), co-founder and former CEO of SDN startup Big Switch Networks, joined VMware in October as chief technology strategy officer of its networking and security business unit.

Dominick Delfino, a 14-year Cisco veteran who was vice president of worldwide data center and virtualization systems engineering, joined VMware Sept. 22. One industry executive told CRN Cisco officials were "livid" over VMware's hiring of Delfino, a longtime popular figure in the Cisco channel.

VMware Says NSX Now Has 250 Paying Customers

VMware has told Wall Street not to expect NSX to start fulfilling its revenue-generating potential until 2015. But VMware says it already has 250 paying customers and a $100 million run rate from NSX.

"We have enormous momentum as we go into Q4 in that regard," VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger said during last month's third-quarter earnings call.

Here's the thing: VMware also cited the $100 million NSX run rate in July, when it said it had 150 paying customers. So VMware is either playing its cards close to the vest here, or it added 100 paying customers that somehow didn't increase the run rate for NSX.

VMware Is Sick Of Cisco Bashing NSX

The day after VMware started selling NSX last November, Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior (pictured) penned a blog post about why the software-only "overlay" approach that NSX uses isn't as good as Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) version of SDN.

Since then, Cisco hasn't been shy about sowing seeds of fear, uncertainty an doubt in the minds of potential NSX customers. In May, sources told CRN that Cisco salespeople had been telling VCE customers that NSX doesn't run well on Vblocks, VCE's converged infrastructure offering.

That might have been the last straw for VMware, which until that point had taken the high road. VMware is now vocal about the advantages of its software approach to SDN and how customers can get management and security advantages without having to shell out for new hardware, as they'll have to do with Cisco ACI.

VMware Touting NSX As Network Security Technology

Since many customers aren't yet ready for SDN, VMware has decided to focus its sales efforts on "micro-segmentation," which refers to how NSX can be used to keep attackers that hack into one part of a network from moving laterally to other parts.

This is a much easier sell for VMware salespeople and channel partners, and VMware has managed to get security vendor partners to augment NSX with their own technologies, further validating the idea.

If VMware can get customers to buy into the idea of NSX as a security technology, it'll have a much easier time of converting them to the concept of a software-defined data center. And each NSX sale will make it harder for Cisco to convert VMware customers to its ACI vision, which uses a combination of hardware and software.

NSX Is Gaining Momentum With VMware Partners

VMware says it now has 85 partners trained and authorized to sell NSX, and it expects to pass the 100 mark by the end of the year. Within this group, there are 600 individuals who've gone through the certification process for NSX.

VMware has some 25,000 partners worldwide, so there's lot of work ahead to get more of them selling NSX. But clearly VMware has made a lot of progress since it first brought NSX to the channel in February, and its global reseller deal with Dell, unveiled in August, should help move the needle.