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VMware Bolsters SDN Efforts With Execs From Cisco, Big Switch

The company, which went into SDN in a big way with its 2012 buy of Nicira, reportedly has hired Big Switch's co-founder and a Cisco veteran.

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VMware, the server virtualization pioneer that made a major push into the burgeoning software-defined network market two years ago when it bought startup Nicira for $1.26 billion, reportedly is bringing on a couple of big names to expand it networking efforts.

The company in September hired Dominick Delfino, who had spent the past 14 years with rival Cisco Systems, most recently as vice president of systems engineering, where he was helping lead the push for the company's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) strategy that includes software-defined networking (SDN). Delfino now is vice president of worldwide systems engineering at VMware.

In addition, VMware has brought aboard Guido Appenzeller, who helped found SDN startup Big Switch Networks in 2010 and served as its CEO until leaving the company in 2013. He reportedly will become CTO of VMware. On his LinkedIn page, he simply says he is "heading to VMware."

Appenzeller was replaced at Big Switch Networks in November 2013 by Doug Murray, who is overseeing the company's transition away from the concept of SDN overlays to leveraging bare-metal switches to run both physical and virtual networks.

VMware's acquisition of Nicira announced its entrance into the highly competitive SDN space, and immediately put it into competition with longtime partner and networking leader Cisco. Nicira was founded by Martin Casado, who as a graduate student at Stanford University developed the idea of SDN and led the development of the OpenFlow protocol. Casado, who had been CTO of VMware's networking business, is now senior vice president of VMware's networking and security unit.

As the server and storage spaces in the data center have become more software-centric through the adoption of virtualization, networks have stayed tied to complex and expensive networking gear that is difficult and time-consuming to program. The rise of mobile computing, big data, the cloud and other trends is putting more pressure on networks to be adaptable and dynamic.

SDN promises to make networks more programmable, agile and cost-effective by decoupling the control plane from the physical layer and putting it into software, which can run on commodity hardware. It's closely associated with network-functions virtualization (NFV), which puts such networking tasks as firewalls and load balancing into software, making them applications that also can run on less-expensive systems.

Most established vendors are building out their SDN portfolios while a growing number of startups are looking to gain traction in a market that IDC analysts have said will grow from $960 million this year to $8 billion by 2018. Cisco is answering the SDN threat with its ACI initiative, with the bulk of the technology coming from its "spin-in" company called Insieme.