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VMware updates SDN platform for data center networking

VMware releases a new version of its SDN platform. Network administrators are expected to welcome the latest NSX features.

VMware has introduced a significant, but less than major, release of the company's virtual networking and security product, NSX.

VMware released NSX 6.2 this week at the VMworld conference in San Francisco. The latest version of the company's software-defined networking (SDN) technology contains more than 20 new features.

The improvements do not take NSX ahead of its rival, Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), said Rohit Mehra, analyst at IDC, based in Framingham, Mass. Instead, NSX 6.2 carries significant operational improvements for network administrators.

From a competitive standpoint, NSX 6.2 falls short. "I wish there was something more here in terms of new and profound capabilities," said Mehra.

NSX 6.2 benefits network administrators

Network administrators are expected to benefit from the update to the SDN platform, however. Mehra said that group will like the ability to run vCenter, VMware's centralized management tool for the vSphere suite, across multiple data centers. VSphere is the brand name for VMware's suite of virtualization products. VCenter lets network administrators configure vSphere hypervisors and virtual machines (VM).

Having that level of scalability is expected to help organizations use NSX in disaster recovery, security or hybrid clouds. In general, NSX automatically provisions virtual networks and services to VMs running applications.

The second NSX 6.2 feature expected to please network administrators is support for Open vSwitch Database Management Protocol (OVSDB) in vSphere environments. OVSDB is an OpenFlow configuration protocol designed to manage Open vSwitch virtual switches.

VMware had OVSDB support for NSX. Adding it for vSphere environments lets administrators distribute policies across the physical and virtual layers of a network. The hardware layer would be comprised of products from VMware partners, including HP, Dell and Brocade Communications Systems Inc.

Overall, NSX 6.2 is addressing "large enterprise-type needs that IT managers in the data center are absolutely going to be looking for," Mehra said.

VMware versus Cisco

VMware and its largest competitor, Cisco, take opposite approaches to SDN. Cisco ties ACI to its hardware, while VMware takes advantage of its roots in virtualization to let NSX run on its partners' hardware.

Both companies claim their products are catching on with large enterprises. VMware says it has more than 700 customers, with 65 planning to spend more than $1 million on NSX. At the end of the third quarter, Cisco had 585 ACI customers, according to the vendor.

Enterprises and cloud service providers worldwide are expected to spend $8 billion by 2018 on SDN for data center networking, according to IDC. That represents a compound annual growth rate of more than 89% from $960 million in 2014.

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