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Manage IT infrastructure with NSX's multi-tenant features

VMware NSX now supports multi-tenancy, which can help admins manage complex IT environments. Explore what's new and get started with this step-by-step walkthrough.

Although VMware built NSX with multi-tenancy in mind, the network virtualization and security platform did not fully support multi-tenant architectures until recently.

In many IT environments, a team of infrastructure administrators with access to all system components manages the entire setup. But in some cases, certain groups might only need access to part of the overall IT infrastructure -- for example, departments, branches or project teams that want to manage their own networking or security setup.

Historically, VMware NSX used a tiered gateway model, in which IT admins could isolate networks between tenants and see all objects, but could not manage objects at a tenant level. Although NSX introduced multi-tenancy in version 4.0.1, it was only configurable through the API, an admin-unfriendly option.

Following NSX updates in late 2022, however, admins can create objects in projects, which map to tenants. They can then assign tenant users to roles, allowing them to manage tenant-specific objects such as tier-1 gateways, segments and firewall rules. This multi-tenancy feature is offered natively in the NSX user interface and does not require integration with VMware vCloud Director.

Walkthrough: Configure VMware NSX to manage a multi-tenant architecture

Figure 1 shows the hierarchy of projects within the default organization, which contains the provider objects such as tier-0 gateways, overall firewall rules and other system-wide components. In this example, two projects -- i.e., tenants -- were created with tenant-specific objects, such as tier-1 gateways, segments and firewall rules.

Diagram of default organizational architecture, comprising the provider organization and tenant projects with associated objects.
Figure 1. In NSX's default organizational architecture, provider objects occupy a higher position in the hierarchy than tenant objects.

To start using NSX's multi-tenant capabilities, start by creating a project using the project switcher drop-down menu in the NSX title bar. Figure 2 shows the default project, which is used for the provider configuration, and three projects representing the tenants. The default project cannot be edited or removed.

Screenshot of VMware NSX project management page showing default and tenant projects.
Figure 2. The default project is used for the provider configuration. Additional projects can be added for various tenants.

When creating a project, provider admins can also assign tier-0 gateways and edges for tenant use. Figure 3 shows configuration options for an example project. The short log identifier is used in log entries for objects that belong to a tenant, enabling provider admins to find tenant-related entries in their centralized logging system.

Screenshot of VMware NSX page for a specific project showing tenant name, description, tags, gateways, edges and short log identifier.
Figure 3. On project pages, provider admins can configure settings for specific tenants.

For each project, provider admins can set quotas limiting the number of items that each tenant can create. Figure 4 shows an example of networking limits, setting a maximum of one tier-1 gateway, eight segments and four network address translation (NAT) rules.

Screenshot from VMware NSX showing limits on objects that can be created for a specific tenant project.
Figure 4. Provider admins can set limits on the number of objects that can be created in tenant projects, such as gateways, segments and NAT rules.

In the Security and Inventory tabs, admins can also set limits on the number of firewall policies and rules, and the number of custom services and groups, respectively.

Created projects are found in the User Management section, as shown in Figure 5.

Screenshot of VMware NSX user management page showing user role assignments.
Figure 5. Provider admins can assign users project-specific roles for more fine-grained control over their object access.

Assigning roles to users for a specific project limits their access to only those objects associated with the assigned project. When these users log in, they will only see their own project listed in the project switcher drop-down list and will be unaware of other tenants.

Provider admins can assign users to different roles, such as network or security administrators, which further limits the types of objects they can work with. Users within a tenant group who are assigned the project admin role can manage user role assignments for that tenant.

In the example shown in Figure 6, the tenant administrator user can only see the TechTarget Tenant A project from the project switcher menu. Likewise, only the tier-1 gateway object created within that project is visible.

Screenshot of VMware NSX from the perspective of a tenant admin, who cannot see projects associated with the provider or other tenants.
Figure 6. Unlike provider admins, tenant admins can only see the objects associated with their project, not the entire system.

Because tenant users don't have access to the System tab in NSX, they can't manage -- or even see -- infrastructure components such as transport nodes and management appliances.

A provider administrator at the enterprise admin level can manage all projects. The All Projects entry in the project switcher shows all objects from all tenants. Figure 7 shows several tier-1 gateways with a new column that shows the project associated with an object.

Screenshot of VMware NSX from the perspective of an enterprise provider admin, who can see all objects associated with all projects.
Figure 7. Provider admins at the enterprise level can manage all tenants, as they have the ability to view and create objects for any project.

By switching between projects, provider administrators can also create objects for tenants.

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