HP, Juniper to help VMware take on networks with NSX

The two Cisco rivals announced partnerships on Monday to help flesh out VMware's upcoming system

VMware's big splash in software-defined networking with its NSX network hypervisor comes with partnerships already in place to flesh out its virtual networks.

On Monday, as VMware formally announced NSX at VMworld, Hewlett-Packard and Juniper Networks announced deals with the company to tie their software-defined networking (SDN) systems in with the new network hypervisor.

NSX is VMware's strongest attempt yet to take control over enterprise networks, which puts it on a collision course with Cisco Systems, a current partner, Gartner analyst Joe Skorupa said.

"They both have the same goal, which is to be the vendor that controls all infrastructure in the data center," Skorupa said. "You can't have two."

While VMware's relationship with Cisco is showing signs of strain, the partnerships it announced on Monday with HP and Juniper could be significant for its networking ambitions, he said.

VMware wants to do the same thing for networks that it has done for servers in many enterprises already. While virtualization allows workloads to move quickly from one physical server to another, the network changes required to deal with those changes typically are more complex and time-consuming. SDN is an array of new techniques to separate the control of networks from their underlying infrastructure that handles data packets.

NSX is a network hypervisor that creates virtual tunnels across an infrastructure to accommodate the mobility of virtual machines. It brings in technology VMware acquired with SDN startup Nicira last July. Though VMware already has some network virtualization capabilities with its VXLAN tunneling technology, NSX will bring significant enhancements, including better scaling and the ability to work with non-VMware hypervisors such as Microsoft HyperV and the open-source KVM, that may be used in some parts of a VMware shop, Skorupa said.

HP and VMware plan to federate NSX with HP's SDN controller, adding HP's more fine-grained control of network hardware to its capabilities. This will let them bring physical and virtual networks together to a degree that other vendors haven't been able to achieve, according to Bethany Mayer, senior vice president and general manager of HP Networking.

The federation will offer benefits to users of all HP networking gear that includes the OpenFlow SDN protocol, which HP has been using since 2008. But it won't be available until the second half of next year, as HP and VMware still have work to do in developing the technology and bringing it to market, Mayer said. The partnership isn't exclusive, but work has been going on for about six months already and the companies each have contributed R&D resources to the project, she said.

So-called overlay solutions such as NSX can set up virtual tunnels across a network but don't automatically configure the switches and other gear that make up the network, Mayer said. Networks are constantly changing, with different configurations and new users contending for resources, so overlay systems can suffer from "blind spots," she said. That makes it harder to make the network deliver the level of service that an application demands.

HP's controller adds an "underlay" that has access to everything going on in the physical network. Working in conjunction with NSX, it will help to make tunnels work as they need to, Mayer said.

Also on Monday, Juniper announced an expansion of its partnership with VMware to let customers tie its infrastructure more tightly with VMware technologies. The work will include a VMware NSX Layer 2 Gateway function, for connectivity between virtualized and non-virtualized parts of a network. The gateway function will be available for a variety of core, aggregation and access switches and edge routers in mid-2014. Other features will include hardware acceleration of VXLAN routing, also due in mid-2014, and closer integration with Juniper's virtual security technologies.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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