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VMware and Nicira – Advancing the Software-Defined Datacenter

Today I am extremely excited to announce VMware’s acquisition of Nicira, a 5 year-old company that has pioneered software-defined networking (SDN) and is the leader in networking virtualization for heterogeneous infrastructure environments and clouds. When combined with the outstanding networking team and technologies already at VMware, I believe we have the same opportunity to do for networking what we’ve already done for servers and many other parts of the datacenter. In fact, the people, passions, ecosystem, and industry-transforming opportunity reminds me very much of the early days of VMware’s server virtualization efforts!

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s step back and fit this acquisition into context of VMware’s broader vision and product offerings.

Delivering the Software-Defined Datacenter

In a recent blog, I discussed the notion of a software-defined datacenter, the foundation of cloud computing. Cloud computing is about agile, elastic, efficient, and reliable services, and it can only be achieved through intelligent software that abstracts out hardware resources, pools it into aggregate capacity, enabling automation to safely and efficiently dole it out as needed by applications.

Tenants or customers utilizing the software-defined datacenter can have their own virtual datacenter with an isolated collection of all the compute, storage, networking, and security resources that they are used to. Furthermore, this virtual datacenter can grow and shrink to efficiently utilize physical resources. But most importantly, the time to deploy these resources can be orders of magnitude faster than in most of today’s IT environments. This is what the software-defined datacenter is all about, and it is the architecture for the cloud. This acquisition advances our software-defined datacenter strategy.

For the past 14 years, VMware has led the way towards the software-defined datacenter with our battle-tested server virtualization capabilities, as well as through vSphere’s software-based storage and availability offerings. Nicira will help us advance our software-defined networking activities substantially. Today we offer VMware vSphere’s virtual switching, vCloud Director Networking, vShield Network and Security services, and collaborate with the industry on the VXLAN protocol. This acquisition expands VMware’s networking portfolio to provide a full suite of SDN capabilities and a comprehensive solution lineup for virtualizing the network – from virtual switching to virtualized layer 3-7 services.

Some Challenges with Networking in the Cloud

Cloud computing has put a real strain on traditional approaches to networking. Managing networks and networking services in a cloud environment is complex and time-consuming: to provision and configure the networking services for workloads in the cloud, customers often have to deal with creating and managing thousands of VLANs and VLAN rules. As a result, while provisioning a VM may take only 2 min, provisioning the associated network and networking services can add days or even weeks to the process. Furthermore, cloud computing benefits from applications’ ability to move all around a datacenter (or even across datacenters). However, physical network topology limits workload mobility within the scope of a top-of-the-rack switch and a handful of servers. The industry clearly recognizes the need and opportunity to transform networking for the cloud, and thus to enable even more agility and efficiency in its operation.

Enter Software-Defined Networking

To address these challenges, Nicira’s software-defined networking starts by virtualizing the network, decoupling the logical view of a network from its physical implementation. It does so by creating an abstraction layer between server hosts and existing networking gear which decouples and isolates virtual networks for specific networking hardware, turning it into a pool of network capacity. This enables the on-demand, programmatic creation of tens of thousands of isolated virtual networks with the simplicity and operational ease of creating and managing virtual machines. The resulting business value comes from more agile, efficient, flexible, and robust networking configurations. You can more about network virtualization here, and the included picture should look familiar:

Embracing Multiple Hypervisors and Multiple Clouds

Customers want networking solutions that work across their entire datacenter, managing communication of both VMware- and non-VMware installations as well as (gasp!) physical hardware. Nicira is the pioneer in software-defined networking, but it is important to note that they are also the leader in network virtualization for heterogeneous hypervisor and cloud environments. They are major contributors to the networking capabilities of other hypervisors (via the Open vSwitch community) as well as to the “Quantum Project”, one of the key subsystems of OpenStack.

I can imagine skepticism as to whether we will continue this substantial embrace of non-VMware hypervisors and clouds. Let me be clear in this blog… we are absolutely committed to maintaining Nicira’s openness and bringing additional value and choices to the OpenStack, CloudStack, and other cloud-related communities. It’s worth noting that this builds upon the openness delivered by our other recent acquisition of DynamicOps, a leader in cloud automation solutions for heterogeneous environments. It also builds upon our experience with the SpringSource community as well as our stewardship of the CloudFoundry Open Platform as a Service Project.

Similarly, Nicira’s network virtualization supports a broad variety of NICs, switches, appliances, networking APIs, and fabric types. A customer’s ability to gain new networking virtualization capabilities without changing out their existing infrastructure is paramount. This is an area VMware is very comfortable with today through our broad partnerships and hardware compatibility programs around servers and storage. We will continue to maintain our open approach and provide access to our networking technology and APIs to our partners to allow them to add new value through both hardware and software advancements, as well as by providing compatibility with legacy systems. In this context we look forward to continuing to work closely with current and future ecosystem partners such as Cisco.

We’ll be sharing even more exciting news about how we plan to engage and support these different communities in the near future. In the meantime, you can visit the blog of Nicira co-founder and CTO Martin Casado here.

Looking Forward

In closing, this is an incredibly exciting time at VMware, but also for our collective industry. Customers clearly demand cloud computing, and we can deliver it via the software-defined datacenter. With this acquisition, we bring together two pioneering teams in network virtualization to accelerate the realization of the software-defined datacenter and the benefits it will deliver to businesses and service providers alike.

I’ll close now with a shameless plug to join us at VMworld where we’ll speak even more about VMware, Nicira, and the exciting times ahead!


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