VMworld Puts Spotlight On NSX Customers

Companies talk about their NSX deployments at the annual VMware user conference as VMware launches NSX 6.2 with new capabilities.

Marcia Savage

September 1, 2015

5 Min Read
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As VMware NSX reached its two-year milestone this week at VMworld, the virtualization giant focused more on customer traction than flashy new features in the network virtualization platform.

In keynotes and sessions, VMware told attendees it now has more than 700 NSX customers (up from 150 a year ago). Sixty-five of those customers have spent more than $1 million on NSX, and more than 100 are in full production. Several spoke at the annual VMware user conference, including DirectTV CIO Mike Benson, who made a splash by revealing that the company used NSX to deal with peak demand for its pay-per-view heavyweight boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather in May.

The company had started virtualizing its data center by focusing on servers and storage, but wanted to "eliminate the bottleneck from a network perspective," he said. NSX helped it move from manual processes to fluid delivery and also to boost security, he added.

Focus on security, streamlining operations

For Optum Health, the technology arm of Minneapolis-based health care company United Health Group, security was a big driver for its NSX deployment along with improving operations. David Sandberg, who works in Optum's enterprise technology engineering, led a session with Robert Bauer, an architect with Optum Technology, on the organization's journey to network virtualization, which they said is still in its early days.

"Our objective first and foremost was around increasing our security posture. Target was fresh in our minds," Sandberg said. Manual firewall processes and multiple ticketing systems slowed down VM provisioning.

The company decided to implement NSX in December, focusing on its distributed firewall component and integration with Palo Alto Networks next-generation firewall, which it already was using. Optum focused on a greenfield deployment initially with a strategy of starting small, iterating and improving. Despite pressure from executive management to go faster, Optum moved carefully, Sandberg said.

"This isn't just a technology project; this is a change management initiative," he said. "We're really having to change the way a number of groups do their business. So plan for it. Document your objectives and make sure you go back to it to prevent scope creep."

Asked by an attendee if the NSX deployment has saved the organization money, Bauer said cost savings come from automation and not having to buy as much hardware for physical networking, such as firewalls. "But down the road, operations is where we hope to capture a lot of it," he said.

More than two dozen NSX customers are represented at VMworld this week, Martin Casado, VMware Fellow and general manager and senior VP of the networking and security business, said in a keynote Tuesday. Customers cut across a range of industry verticals and sizes, he said, adding that the top use cases driving NSX adoption are security, automation and application continuity.

His keynote featured a video of Tribune Media, a Chicago-based broadcast company that made data center security a priority and deployed NSX in its hybrid cloud. The executive in the video proclaimed: "We've gone from the Flintstones to the Jetsons in less than 18 months."

New NSX capabilities

At VMworld, VMware debuted version NSX 6.2, which has 20 new features -- the more interesting ones are actually kind of boring operational improvements, Chris King, VP for product marketing in the networking and security business unit at VMware, told me in an interview. One is Traceflow, which helps provide a view into both physical and virtual components, he said. Another is a central CLI troubleshooting tool that provides a centralized view of the virtual network.

NSX 6.2 also features support for Open vSwitch Database (OVSDB) support in Vsphere environments, which enables integration with top-of-rack switches from VMware partners. Shamus McGillicuddy, a senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, said in an interview that the new support would make it easier for users to incorporate non-virtualized workloads into NSX.

The updated network virtualization platform also provides support for cross vCenter vMotion over VXLAN, which enables NSX multi-data center support for disaster recovery and metro pooling.

"It’s good to consider NSX technology as something that is more widespread than just being an add-on to vSphere," Dan Conde, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, told me in an email. 

"The cross-cloud vMotion demonstrated at the show uses some core network virtualization technology and many core parts of an overlay network are not necessarily tied to vSphere per se but can be used in new systems that VMware is introducing or demonstrating. So virtualized networking is a key core technology that will be critical for not only data center, but in many other uses as well," he said.

Quiet Cisco

Yet despite all the talk about NSX customer traction at VMworld, there's still an elephant in the room: Where's Cisco? Actually, Cisco is at the show -- in fact, it's a platinum sponsor -- but its presence is low key, especially compared to networking vendors like HP.

On Monday, HP announced that it's extended its server OEM partnership with VMware to resell NSX and jointly develop OVSDB certification for its FlexFabric 5930 TOR switch. Meanwhile, Cisco made headlines Monday with its partnership news with Apple.

VMware has a reference architecture about how to build NSX across a Cisco Nexus 9000 network, and enabling customers to work with Cisco would seem like a natural goal, considering Cisco has the largest networking footprint, McGillicuddy said. Yet, "Cisco remains invisible when they talk about hardware partners," he said.

"I'm disappointed to continue to not see Cisco being actively involved in the NSX ecosystem and vice versa," McGillicuddy said. "I wonder how customers feel about the silence between the two....They've said repeatedly that these products don't compete with each other, so why don't they work more together?"

Conde said in talking with VMware executives, they've expressed hope for more collaboration with Cisco in the future; he noted that VMware is holding a session at VMworld on how to deploy NSX with Cisco Nexus and UCS.

He said NSX and Cisco's ACI architecture each have their place in the datacenter, and can co-exist well.  "vSwitches and NSX are 'at the edge' where they can provide appropriate services and of course, physical switches do their job at the core of the network," he said.

About the Author(s)

Marcia Savage

Executive Editor, Network Computing

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