Why VMware is Expanding the Virtual Network Outside the Data Center

Staying relevant in the data center today means being relevant outside of it too.

Christine Hall

May 7, 2018

4 Min Read
VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger speaks at VMworld 2016
VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger speaks at VMworld 2016VMware

Last week during a keynote address at Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger said the company was pushing at full speed to embrace the data center's expansion beyond its traditional boundaries, introducing VMware NSX Virtual Cloud Network, which he called "the future for networking." This comes just six months after the virtualization and networking company acquired the cloud-based wide area network (WAN) startup VeloCloud.

Why is VMware doing this? The short answer is, that's what the market demands. The data center is no longer a walled garden surrounded by a moat, but has expanded to include corporate branch offices, multi-cloud deployments, and even devices that connect at the edge.

"I think to remain relevant to customers as they begin to distribute their applications and embrace multi-cloud, you need to have solutions that facilitate that for them and that remain relevant to them as they go down that road," Brad Casemore, research VP for data center networks at IDC, told Data Center Knowledge. "I think in that respect this is something that's valuable. VMware, I'm sure, is going to have a considerable amount of success here, but it's also something that customers need, and therefore something they really had to provide."

Related:VMware and AWS Say Move Your DR Data Center to the Cloud

The announcement centered around the consolidation of the company's NSX networking and security portfolio as a solution for all networking environments, from private data center to WAN to hybrid to cloud.

VMware hasn't said much about what its Virtual Cloud Network will look like and refers to it as a "networking and security portfolio." It consists of four NSX flavors: Data Center, its backbone virtualization platform that will include new container and bare metal capabilities with its next release; SD-WAN, which came out of VMware's acquisition of VeloCloud; Cloud, which provides networking and security for applications running in both private data centers and public clouds; and Hybrid Connect, used to set up hybrid environments.

According to company literature, Virtual Cloud Network will "deliver consistent, pervasive connectivity and security for traditional and modern apps across data center, branch, cloud, and edge."

"I think these will be integrated and bundled," speculated Casemore. "The functionality will probably be offered on a per-product basis, and there will be a roll-up and an offering where if you need all these things and you want to buy them, they'll be packaged accordingly. I think that's the way they're going."

In other words, we could possibly see features from various NSX lines rolled into a single platform, with features being unlocked according to the license purchased.

"From a customer perspective you only care that you have workloads and you want to apply consistent network and security policies governing all of them," he explained. "I think over time those lines will blur, and to the degree that it makes sense, these products will be offered in more integrated packages."

What customers are asking of networking vendors like VMware is to help simplify their operations, even as data centers are becoming increasingly more complex as their perimeters expand to include the cloud and to accommodate devices at the edge. Not only is simplification necessary to keep operations running smoothly with minimum disruptions to service, but also to control costs by keeping staffing needs to a minimum.

"The only way you can do that and make the network, and infrastructure as a whole, increasingly autonomous is to have improved visibility over the whole network environment," Casemore said. "I think that's going to be an area to watch, not only with VMware but with the vendor community as a whole, because the visibility informs your intent, whether you're doing intent-based networking or implementing policy. It's good for not only faster remediation when you troubleshoot, but it helps further inform the policy and make it more intelligent. We're never going to get people out of the equation, but we'll be able to have a much better scaling ratio of IT personnel to networking and compute devices."

Casemore pointed out that numerous networking vendors have also been moving to integrate the cloud into their products, citing Cisco's work with ACI and Cloud Center, Juniper's work with Contrail and Tungsten Fabric, and Nokia's Nuage Networks.

"As I look at what VMware's done, I think it's extremely comprehensive," he said. "They've tried to address nearly every facet of what customers will require as they look at supporting multi-cloud and their application portfolios that will reside across those distributed environments. VMware likes to say that we no longer have a data center; we have centers of data. Right now you have not just one core, you have multiple cores, cores being the data centers. This is the reality that all enterprise IT vendors must grapple with, because there no rolling back the cloud."

About the Author(s)

Christine Hall

Freelance author

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001 she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and began covering IT full time in 2002, focusing on Linux and open source software. Since 2010 she's published and edited the website FOSS Force. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux.

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