VMware's NSX Could Be a Small Step or Giant Leap for SDN


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VMware’s network virtualization platform NSX is critical to its software-defined data center strategy. But unclear pricing and positioning could limit its uptake and delay adoption of software-defined networking technology.

News Analysis


On 26 August 2013, VMware announced NSX, its software-defined networking (SDN) solution, which includes integrated switching, routing, firewalling, load-balancing, VPN and API capabilities. The NSX ecosystem of partners includes Arista, Citrix, Dell, F5, HP, Juniper, Palo Alto, Riverbed and others.


Enterprise adoption of SDN has been limited by the requirement for integration across multiple platforms within internal IT organizations. Through the NSX platform, VMware and partners are promising enterprise IT organizations a broad SDN solution they can easily consume. NSX seeks to enhance enterprises' agility in handling data center workloads. The NSX platform is based on an overlay network model derived from software that VMware acquired from Nicira Networks, and supports VPNs and the leading hypervisors, which simplifies connectivity across heterogeneous environments. VMware also has lined up an impressive ecosystem of partners and solutions:

  • HP, Juniper and others will support dynamic mobility of workloads between virtual and physical switches.

  • HP and VMware have federated their controllers to integrate overlay and underlay topologies, enabling optimized path selection and simplified debugging.

  • Citrix, F5, Riverbed and Silver Peak will offer an integrated application delivery services.

NSX is a critical part of VMware’s software defined data center (SDDC) strategy and has the potential to transform data center architectures. It encompasses computing, storage, security and networking, and furthers VMware's effort to transform itself from a virtualization provider to a strategic data center infrastructure vendor. If VMware's solution is cost-competitive, the broad ecosystem could drive a vibrant open community in networking, with the long-term potential to challenge Cisco’s dominance within mainstream enterprises. But VMware's positioning of this announcement as network virtualization vs. SDN reduces its chances of connecting with network buyers outside of VMware's core virtualization base and leaves them vulnerable to backlash from the Cisco community. Gartner clients search gartner.com for SDN over network virtualization at a ratio of 20:1, and view network virtualization as applicable primarily to large organizations that require multitenancy. In addition, the NSX announcement leaves significant concerns unaddressed:

  • It does not significantly reduce the management and operating expenses required to operate existing physical networks.

  • Scalability and performance of this implementation of tunneling/overlay solutions is unproven in mainstream enterprise environments.

Pricing ultimately will determine how far NSX advances both SDN and VMware. NSX represents a new expense for VMware customers already concerned about current pricing. If NSX initially is priced too high — a mistake VMware has made before — it risks being lost amid SDN hype. If NSX is priced appropriately, Gartner anticipates significant enterprise penetration, ultimately driving SDN to mainstream adoption.


Networking professionals:

  • If you are struggling with networking agility, evaluate NSX to determine if it addresses your challenges, but do not move beyond the pilot phase until VMware discloses details on pricing.

  • Compare NSX with overlay offerings from competing vendors such as Juniper, Alcatel-Lucent's Nuage and PLUMgrid, and with physical switch-based SDN offerings.

  • Determine if existing IT providers for application delivery, firewall, and routing and switching tightly integrate with the NSX solution.

  • Obtain guarantees from VMware on long-term vCloud Networking and Security support before using it in lieu of or in addition to NSX.

Recommended Reading

Some documents may not be available as part of your current Gartner subscription.

  • "Ending the Confusion About Software-Defined Networking: A Taxonomy" — This taxonomy presents a framework that network and server virtualization architects can use to discuss how SDN can benefit their organizations by providing an architectural model to compare multiple vendors' approaches. By Joe Skorupa, Mark Fabbi and Akshay Sharma

  • "Vendor Rating: VMware" — VMware continues to see solid growth in server virtualization infrastructure while it broadens its reach to new markets. By Chris Wolf and others

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