VMware NSX: A ‘Slam Dunk’, Really?

When the Chicago Bulls ruled the court in the 1990’s they had two big weapons: Michael Jordan, and an extremely solid team behind him, because basketball is a team sport.  Two weeks ago VMware hit the court with their new network virtualization product VMware NSX, and while this may potentially be a star, it is not clear that all of other pieces are in place. This is just an overview; we take an in-depth look at VMware’s strategy for NSX here.

For the first time in 20 years the accepted standards of networking are being challenged by Software Defined Networks (SDN), a type of network virtualization. Throughout businesses today companies are  seeing the benefits of virtualized your servers.  Getting a new server online to support your expanding business used to be expensive and time-consuming; now it is quicker and less inexpensive.  But what about the network that connects all of these servers? It’s ugly, with physical cables, physical connections, error-prone processes and lots of manually typed commands. Network virtualization fixes that.

As the leader in server virtualization you’d think that VMware has a natural advantage for network virtualization but there is a significant difference in both the market and how they are approaching it. When servers were virtualized, VMware was the only real game in town. Their market share and stock price escalated accordingly, as they owned the market.  But the networking market is a very different animal with more entrenched players, greater barriers to switching and unamortized equipment that won’t be replaced quickly.

Cisco is VMware’s biggest challenger in this market and they are not about to go down without a fight. Just as Cisco upset server OEMs like DellHewlett-Packard and IBM by getting in the server business, VMware is raising the hackles of networking leaders like Cisco, Juniper and Arista by encroaching on the networking business.

Those looking at SDN are interested in the flexibility of open source or open standards because they are tired of being in locked into proprietary solutions.  But VMware promotes a more vertical VMware-centric solution, which is at odds with the market needs.

For those customers who are firmly embracing the VMware vision, NSX could be a great addition. But for the majority of the market that either does not run VMware or runs a mixed environment, NSX is a much more difficult sell.

But the real losers in this game might be all of the networking professionals.  As SDN marginalizes their proprietary knowledge and potentially lets the server guys handle the networking tasks, look for disruption in the market. Now is a good time for you to have your company’s networking professionals expand their skill sets and begin focusing on some higher level business problems.

The future state of SDN is still unclear, and VMware’s NSX is not the de facto solution like they had on the server side. If you are looking for a deeper dive, our in-depth analysis will help you make even more sense of what this announcement means both to the market or to your business.