VMware Unveils Upgraded NSX SDN Platform

The giant virtualization vendor brings greater control, automation and security capabilities to the 2-year-old network virtualization technology.


VMware is adding almost two-dozen new features to its NSX network virtualization platform that touch on everything from greater control of data and improved integration with physical infrastructure to better troubleshooting tools.

Company officials announced the advancements Aug. 31 during the opening day of the VMworld 2015 show in San Francisco. They also are using the show to tout the growth of the NSX technology, which the VMware inherited two years when it bought Nicira for $1.26 billion.

"We've had really good growth in the form of paying customers," Chris King, vice president for product marketing at VMware, told eWEEK.

Those numbers include more than 700 customers and more than 100 production deployments, King said. In addition, VMware has trained more than 3,500 people on NSX, more than 20 interoperable solutions from partners are available, and more than 65 customers have invested more than $1 million in the software-defined networking (SDN) technology.

"These are people who have made a huge commitment to NSX," he said, adding that when talking with customers, VMware officials expected that companies would have adopted the technology for one of several reasons. Instead, they found that as much as 75 percent of customers are using NSX for security and automation projects. "It tells us that once you get NSX in the door, it's very difficult to contain."

Five of the company's top 10 deals in the second quarter involved NSX, VMware executives said during a conference call with analysts and journalists in July, and at the end of last year, NSX had annualized revenue of $200 million, Martin Casado, senior vice president and general manager of network and security at VMware, told Bloomberg.

More than two-dozen NSX customers are at VMworld this week, and the company recently has announced new and expanded partnerships around the network virtualization platform with the likes of Intel and SAP. NSX has become a key part of VMware's larger hybrid cloud platform, which the company expanded at the show.

VMware propelled itself in the nascent SDN space in 2012 when it bought Nicira, which was co-founded by Casado, one of the initial architects of the technology. It's become a key network virtualization vendor, competing with other large players, including Cisco Systems.

Enterprises, telecommunications companies and service providers are gravitating toward SDN and network-functions virtualization (NFV) to help them develop more programmable and dynamic networks, enable them to spin out services and applications more quickly and to drive down costs. SDN and NFV enable users to put the control plane and networking tasks into software that can run atop commodity hardware, letting them migrate away from complex and expensive proprietary switches.

Analysts at IHS Infonetics expect the markets for both SDN and NFV to grow rapidly. The SDN space will grow from $781 million last year to $13 billion by 2019, they said, driven by the available of bare-metal switches and demand from enterprises and smaller cloud services providers, the analyst firm said in June. IHS Infonetics analysts expect similar growth for NFV, from $2.3 billion this year to $11.6 billion in 2019.

VMware's King said company officials took what they heard from customers and partners to help drive the enhancements found in NSX 6.2, with a focus on automating IT, improving security and ensuring availability and uptime. That includes bringing stronger application continuity and disaster recovery capabilities through support for cross vMotion over VXLAN with routing and security. Through the upgrades, businesses can scale out their vSphere environments inside a single data center and across multiple data centers by moving the entire networking and security model via a virtual machine (VM). Businesses also do not have to change the underlying infrastructure.

The addition of Open vSwitch Database (OVSDB) support to NSX in vSphere operations enables integration with switches from other companies and advanced load-balancing capabilities, which officials said will make it easier to deploy the technology in their data centers. In the troubleshooting area, one of the enhancements is the introduction of Traceflow, a technology that lets network administrations inject a synthetically created packet into the data path to monitor its path through the forwarding pipeline—including switches, routers and firewalls—across the physical network and through the forwarding pipeline a second time (it's grabbed just before its delivered to a remote VM).

The IT staff can use the information from the synthetic packet's trip through the network to determine any issues and help remediate any problems.