VMware Sets Sights on Networking Virtualization

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger at VMworld

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger at VMworld

At last year’s VMworld conference, VMware outlined its vision for what it calls the software-defined data center (SDDC) – an extension of its strongpoint in server virtualization to virtualize storage and networking as well and ultimately abstract the whole data center infrastructure. Kicking off this year’s VMworld conference in San Francisco, CEO Pat Gelsinger outlined its next step in that strategy, VMware NSX, its networking virtualization platform.

“What ESX was for server virtualization, NSX is for network virtualization,” Gelsinger said of the product, due to launch in the fourth quarter of this year.

Martin Cassado, chief technology officer for networking at VMware, described NSX as “a very simple concept,” exposing virtual networks that support L2, L3, and L4 through L7 services, introducing the operational model of virtualization on the network, including the ability to create networks, move networks around, duplicate and clone networks, and create snapshots.

“Increasingly, the network is becoming the slow point in virtualization,” Gelsinger said. “While many aspects of the data center are fully agile, we’re bound to many aspects of the physical infrastructure of the network. We’re moving to a world where the network is much like compute now is, you spin up network resources the way we spin up a virtual machine.”

While NSX – developed from a mix of organic VMware development and assets from its acquisition of Nicera last year – is the company’s first foray into a full networking virtualization. But Casado pointed out networking virtualization is anything but a nascent concept. In fact, in 2012, the number of virtual ports in existence surpassed the number of physical ports, and virtual networking continues to grow as the number of virtual servers continues to increase over the number of physical servers.

Networking wasn’t the only area of focus for VMware. The company also announced version 5.5 of its vSphere and vCloud Suite products, its traditional computing virtualization strongpoint. Gelsinger said the new version is all about scale – supporting twice the number of cores and twice the number of virtual machines compared to previous versions, and doubling performance on mission-critical applications, while also introducing application-aware high availability that monitors not just whole applications but the key components of major apps. The new version of vSphere also introduces extensions for big data applications, giving VMware an important path for virtualizing major workloads. The holy grail here: the ability to scale up, scale down, share, and migrate Hadoop workloads.

“This is the end of standalone Hadoop,” Gelsinger posited.

On the storage side, Gelsinger introduced VMware Virtual SAN, a networking virtualization system currently in general public beta, which pools compute and storage as a converged data storage tier.

VMware also announced general availability of its vCloud Hybrid Service, introduced in June as an “over-subscribed” public beta. The company’s strategy with the public cloud is to focus on its exiting virtualization customer base, giving them an easy path to spill over workloads that need extra capacity to VMware’s public cloud.

“That’s our differentiation – they don’t have to retrain, they don’t have to know new networking or security configurations,” said Bill Fathers, senior vice president and general manager of hybrid cloud at VMware. “We have a great foothold and we’re going to focus on that.”

Fathers said the company may eventually target other markets and other customers, but for now sees more than enough opportunity in its existing customers, providing them a quick and easy path to use workloads in a hybrid mode. The company is also targeting its core virtualization partner for its hybrid cloud offering, and Fathers said it’s working on VAR enablement and “the list of partners we’re working with to bring this to market is growing very rapidly.”