There are rarely second acts in American business, even for those companies with eye-catching first ones. But VMware wants to do exactly that as it transitions from virtualization pioneer to a networking company.
To accomplish that goal VMware will rely on its NSX software-defined networking (SDN), and an initiative called NSX Everywhere. In recent years, through internal development and acquisitions, the company has integrated NSX features into many of its virtualization and cloud offerings to extend the reach of NSX from the data center to the edge of the network.
Through this broader NSX integration, VMware hopes to build not just a networking fabric, but a business fabric that connects applications and data that have a consistent set of policies and security across corporate users' entire domains.
"We are entering an age where we are moving from data centers to centers of data," said Peder Ulander, vice president who oversees VMware's networking and security products. "There is so much unusable enterprise data out on the edge with no connectivity tying it to the data center. We think NSX can play a role here."
Assembling the NSX integration puzzle
The acquisition of VeloCloud Networks late last year helped boost VMware's networking image and is an important mechanism to transport corporate users to the cloud, said Andrew Lerner, an analyst at Gartner. But VMware still lacks one or two more pieces in its lineup in order to become a true end-to-end networking company, he said.
"They can solve problems in the data center and with VeloCloud solve problems at the WAN level," Lerner said. "But they don't have anything on campus where people are connecting PCs, mobile devices and wireless access points."
Long before VMware began its NSX Everywhere campaign, NSX was going nowhere fast. The company purchased the network virtualization technology in 2012 from SDN startup Nicira, but found a hard sell to VMware users who didn't know what to make of it: Why would a traditional virtualization company buy a networking company?
The incongruous image of a virtualization leader selling software-based networking wasn't the only problem NSX faced. One of the advantages presented to corporate IT shops was NSX's agility, but it proved difficult to assign an investment value to such a subjective asset.
Andrew Lerneranalyst, Gartner
"Agility is a concept that most everyone understands," Lerner said. "When you start charging people money for it, but you can't specifically quantify the ROI, it's a problem," he said.
VMware slotted another piece of the NSX Everywhere puzzle in mid-2016 when it bought Arkin Net, which provides software-defined security, operations and analytics for large data centers. This acquisition aimed to fill out its vRealize Suite of applications to better track data center traffic flows and enable NSX deployments.
Eventually NSX's micro-segmentation capabilities, primarily used to improve the overall efficiency and to more dynamically bolster network security, illuminated the product's value. Over the past year or two and going forward VMware will stitch the technology into other strategic products in its portfolio, most notably its orchestration system, vRealize Orchestrator.
"What I do like about [NSX] is the baked-in nature of the micro-segmentation. ... From an operational standpoint it makes it easier to use and maintain," said a network administrator with a large insurance company in Hartford, Conn., who attended a recent VTUG conference. The firm hasn't finalized its selection yet, but the admin said this feature "is a big plus for us."
Another key to achieve its "NSX Everywhere" goal is NSX-T, a variant of the more popular NSX-V. NSX-T allows IT shops and developers to integrate with emerging, non-VMware environments such as hypervisors, containers and public clouds. VMware needs smooth NSX integration with non-VMware offerings as corporate IT shops piece together multi-cloud strategies.
"The desire by the enterprise for products that are open and multivendor is only going to increase, so NSX-T will be their multi-vendor platform," Lerner said. "It will still be the strategic flagship portion of NSX five years from now."
NSX-T has a fraction of the adoption rate of NSX-V, according to multiple industry analysts, and it faces an arduous journey to gain such broad-based acceptance. One barrier is the time and expense required to migrate large volumes of data from NSX-V users.
"Any conversions of changes of this magnitude will be hard," said one networking consultant at an insurer who requested not to be named. "It's a very delicate transition [that VMware] will have to be careful in managing."
Another requirement to make NSX integration more pervasive is to implement NSX Networking Foundations across every aspect of the network, VMware's Ulander said.
"That is key to establishing consistency from data centers all the way out to the edge in terms of security, policy management and automation," he said. "Users tell us they want NSX capabilities in the cloud-native apps they are running."
VMware will continue to invest this year in containers and serverless technologies as it attempts to bring those technologies to new communities, especially those that drive container-based networking, Ulander said.
Ed Scannell is a senior executive editor with TechTarget. Contact him at [email protected]