VMware sets sites on network virtualisation

"What ESX was to server virtualisation, NSX is to network virtualisation," said VMware's CEO at the kickoff of this year's VMworld

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger used his opening keynote speech at the company's annual VMworld conference to emphasize plans to virtualise networks with the aim of achieving the success in virtualising servers.

Networking "is the most important topic we will discuss today," Gelsinger said to the audience of VMware administrators at the Moscone Center in San Francisco in a speech that was webcast. "We're moving to a world where the network is just like the compute, where we will be able to spin up network services just like we can spin up [virtual machine] services."

At the conference, the company launched NSX, its new hypervisor for network virtualization.

VMware was founded in 1998 to re-introduce the concept of software virtualization to the world of commodity x86 servers (IBM, among other companies, had long offered software virtualization for time-sharing mainframes).

By placing software, such as a server OS, on top of a hypervisor, which sits between the hardware and the hardware's OS, IT shops could move these virtual machines more easily from physical server to physical server, which entailed costs savings by consolidating servers and increased agility of operations.

VMware in fiscal year 2012 generated around US$4.6 billion in revenue, and the industry has become saturated with virtual machines, both from VMware and competitors such as Microsoft. By 2010, the number of virtual machines had outnumbered the number of physical ones, Gelsinger said.

Now, the company is looking to solve the next bottleneck in IT operations, which it identifies as network provisioning.

"Increasingly, the barrier to flexibility is becoming the network. While we can spin up a VM in seconds, [network] configurations can take weeks or months in response," Gelsinger said. NSX, which acts as a unifying layer to controlling network resources such as routers and switches, aims to solve this problem. "What ESX was to server virtualization, NSX is to network virtualization," Gelsinger said.

To help explain NSX, Gelsinger brought on stage VMware chief architect for networking Martin Casado, who was one of the creators of OpenFlow, the protocol that spawned the idea of software defined networking (SDN), which is, in part, another name for network virtualization. Casado was also the chief technology officer of OpenFlow software provider Nicira, which VMware purchased in 2012, and which provides the basis for much of NSX.

Casado said, that when first thinking about OpenFlow, he wanted to "change the network architecture in a way so that you can have the properties in networks that you have in compute, when it comes to thing like operational simplicity, software evolve-ability, programmability."

"Virtual networks look like physical networks, but they have the operational model of a VM -- you can create them dynamically, configure them programmatically, snapshot them, and move them around," Casado said. "This is really taking the virtualization operations model and bringing it to networking."

NSX is part of a larger architecture that VMware has been developing over the past few years, one that it calls the software defined data center (SDDC). With SDDC, all of an organization's infrastructure is virtualized, allowing data center administrators to easily automate operations.

During his keynote, Gelsinger also introduced a number of other technologies, in addition to NSX, that would provide additional elements to SDDC. The company has begun work on its own products to virtualize storage, for instance, with the beta introduction of the Virtual Storage Area Network (VSAN), which allows an administrator create a virtual SAN out of server hard drives.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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Joab Jackson

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