But he thinks the market for virtualized networks will be large and there are ways the two can make their respective approaches work together. Cisco will base its network virtualization on an approach that gauges an application's needs, then assigns a logical slice of the physical network to serve it. It can support the assignment of firewall security and load balancing at the same time. It's called Application-Centric Infrastructure and it's being developed by Insieme, a startup created inside Cisco. This approach keeps the creation and control of the virtual network out on the network and away from the creation of the virtual machine, where it resides with VMware's approach.
Layton diplomatically asserted that "there's plenty of room for these approaches to work together and benefit both," but no one is sure things will pan out that way. Companies that have invested heavily in network administration and Cisco hardware are likely to see it Cisco's way. At least some companies that have invested heavily in virtualization, which include many of Cisco's existing customers, are likely to give VMware its chance to extend the virtual administrator's management console.
And Cisco can't help but notice that some of the most enthusiastic adopters of VMware NSX are its toughest hardware competitors. It's as if they, as a group, have sensed that the door to competing with Cisco has cracked open on a new front and they want to get through it as quickly as possible.
HP said last week at VMworld that it will "federate" its Virtual Application Networks SDN Controller with VMware's NSX. The SDN Controller is HP's OpenFlow protocol-based controller, which can provide a central point from which to set up and tear down virtual nets laid out on the physical network. Its operation can be automated, based on the application's known network requirements. HP, something like Cisco, has a network management-based approach to software-defined networking that puts physical and virtual network management on a single pane of glass in front of the network manager. Unlike Cisco, it's preparing to enable a hand off network management to VMware's NSX and the virtual machine management console.
Bethany Mayer, HP's senior VP and general manager of networking, in HP's announcement said a typical cloud data center might provision 10,000 virtual servers a day, each with a virtual network that would take 20 network commands. Entered manually, they would take 3,333 man hours to complete. "The HP-VMware networking solution promises to eliminate manual configuration of both physical and virtual data center networks," she said.
Juniper Networks, a Cisco competitor which has made little headway against Cisco's dominance, was also quick to sign up as a supporter of NSX. Dell's S6000 switches will support NSX. Arista Networks, Andy Bechtolsheim's high-capacity switching newcomer, is a NSX partner. Brocade, F5 Networks, Silver Peak and Citrix Systems are also partnering on NSX, as well as security vendors McAfee (owned by Intel), Symantec, Palo Alto Networks, Trend Micro and Rapid 7.
VMware has its strengths as the strongest virtualization vendor in the enterprise data center. But Layton doesn't hesitate to point out that VBlocks can be found inside 10 of the top 15 telecom service providers in the world. Cisco will have its own position of strength as the battle for control of the virtual network proceeds.
Learn more about network virtualization by attending the Interop conference track on Cloud Computing and Virtualization in New York from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.