Servers done, now VMware aims to transform networking industry
By Goh Thean Eu September 21, 2015
- The way the networking industry works is fundamentally changing
- VMware sees strong traction in its NSX, expects momentum to continue
CLOUD and virtualisation giant VMware Inc is pumped about its networking virtualisation and security software product NSX, as the signs are that the way enterprises manage their computer networks is changing drastically.
According to Guido Appenzeller, chief technology strategy officer of the networking and security business unit at VMware, the way the computer network industry works has already started changing fundamentally.
“For the longest time, computer network equipment was sold as a vertically-integrated system – perhaps 15-20 years ago, organisations actually purchased servers the same way.
“Back then, one would buy everything from one vendor. Then the PC revolution happened, and you could have an Intel CPU (central processing unit) in a Dell box with a Windows or Linux [operating system] on top,” Appenzeller said on the sidelines of the recent VMworld 2015 conference in San Francisco.
“We are seeing the same thing happening to the network industry right now, where the software and hardware elements are separating,” he added.
In essence, VMware hopes to revolutionise the way enterprises manage their networks the same way the company did with servers.
Before VMware led the virtualisation charge, enterprises needed multiple servers if they wanted to run multiple operating systems (OSes). Today, with VMware’s virtualisation software, different OSes can be run simultaneously on a hypervisor which sits on top of a server.
It’s like the technology that allows a PC to run both Windows and Mac OS, but on a bigger scale, and without the silos of partitions.
“20 years ago, the way one would configure the server was to go to the terminal, put in the CD and start typing commands – and maybe with luck, you get the application working in two hours,” Appenzeller said.
“Today, installing server is completely different with VMware. You go to console, pick an image, and then click to start – about two minutes later, you have a server up and running," he added.
This kind of advancement and thinking still has not affected how organisations configure their computer networks.
“But this is about to change, with the hardware and software separating, and software becoming a more prominent part of networking,” Appenzeller said.
Automation, security and disaster recovery
Appenzeller (pic above), who had cofounded two startups prior to joining VMware last year, said that he was extremely satisfied by the growth achieved by NSX over the past several months.
When he joined the company, the networking virtualisation and security software had 250 customers; today, it has more than 750.
“I have been with many startups, but I have never seen as much growth as I have seen with NSX,” he declared.
Besides the number of customers, Appenzeller said there are also more than 100 production deployments – these are deployments where VMware’s professional service teams are no longer engaged, and the customers can handle the solution by themselves without much handholding.
“We also had quite a number of large deployments – we’ve have had 65 organisations that have spent over US$1 million on NSX alone,” he added.
Appenzeller said that there are three main reasons why organisations are taking up NSX: Automation, security, and disaster recovery.
“Assume you are a software developer, and you want to write a new application. Getting a new virtual machine is very easy. It takes just a couple of minutes. Go to VMware, call your IT administrator, and he will spin it up for you,” he said.
“However, getting your own two-layered network, with the correct router and IP (Internet Protocol) addresses and right firewall settings, may take you more than one week. This is because they (IT administrators) only want to change firewalls during the maintenance window.
“With NSX, you can automate that. If you need a new network, you can just go to the console and tell the console to configure a network and create it,” he added.
With this, having the ability to automate networks would translate to increased productivity for the organisation, according to VMware.
Appenzeller said that network security has also become a bigger issue today, where what was once an IT director issue has now become a ‘board of director level’ issue.
“The big problem with classic security architecture is that all the dollars are spent on the perimeter of the network. So you have the firewall and your intrusion detection system, and they all sit at the perimeter,” he said.
Appenzeller believes that for large enterprises with large data centres, it will only be a matter of time before attackers find a way to get into one of the enterprise’s servers.
“Perhaps it will not be the most important or valuable server, and perhaps it will just be a maintenance machine.
“Breaking into one of your virtual machines can happen – the key thing is to ensure that they [the attacker] stays confined in there.
“So what you really want is to take all your traffic that is going east and west in your data centre, and to secure that traffic,” he added.
In networking, server-to-server data traffic is described as ‘east-west traffic’ while traffic from a client device to a server, or from the network core to the end-user, is known as north-south traffic.
Appenzeller claimed that with NSX, managing disaster recovery also becomes easier.
“Today, large enterprises have multiple data centres – if one goes down, they can shift over to another.
“[With NSX], you can snapshot your configuration and copy it to the second site – it is much easier than moving hardware,” he argued.
Predictions, 2020 and beyond
Appenzeller believes that the networking industry will fundamentally change over the next five years.
Firstly, he expects networking to become a software industry, much like the video industry – consumers no longer go to a video store to rent or purchase movies, but get their entertainment content via Netflix.
“Secondly, I think networking will be a lot more about connecting logical end-points than about forwarding packets,” he said.
“Networking used to be about getting one packet from one server to another. Honestly, today that’s not the problem. If you are an enterprise, the entire issue is about providing bandwidth and IP connectivity. That will be easy.
“But if your problem is to do that in a secure manner, to comply and to deliver the right quality of service, then the focus will become stronger,” said Appenzeller.
He also believes that the network is going to become more integrated with other parts of the IT organisation.
“In a very classic IT organisation, you have a server team, a networking team, and others – and they don’t talk to each other much. They do their things separately.
“If you look at modern banks for example, the teams are organised very differently. They have the end-user computing cloud team, the legacy cloud team ...
“They still have their network and storage and computer experts, but the focus is on teams. These teams are organised by the purpose of the infrastructure rather than a specific function inside the infrastructure,” he said.
Next Page: NSX’s synergies with other VMware offerings, a data centre in a box