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With VMware NSX, is the server admin the new network pro? Not so fast

VMware NSX brings advanced networking to virtualization, so will network and server pros be running two separate networks at once? That's not ideal.

With the NSX network virtualization platform, VMware says it will do for networks what it did a decade ago for servers -- create a software abstraction layer that streamlines operations and service agility.

But just who will be using NSX? Will virtualization and server admins now operate their own virtual networks while the networking team continues to manage the physical infrastructure in isolation?

VMware NSX provides Layer 2-7 functionality, with switching, routing, security and Layer 4-7 services. In other words, it's a new infrastructure layer overlaying the physical network, and someone will have to manage it.

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger and VMware's chief networking architect Martin Casado introduced NSX during Monday's VMworld keynote, and their presentation was conspicuously aimed at server and virtualization admins. While hearing networking described at this level, one can't help but wonder whom VMware hopes to sell this product to.

On the question of whether [NSX buyers] are virtualization admins or more networking, it seems to be 50-50.
Martin Casadochief network architect, VMware, and founder, Nicira

The logical networking capabilities of NSX are far more sophisticated than any virtual networking products VMware has sold to date. And server and virtualization admins may find themselves provisioning and managing these virtual networks in parallel redundancy to the network engineer running the physical network.

"Is it the right answer? No. Why have a hypervisor person learn more networking?" said Andre Kindness, principal analyst with Forrester Research.

"Why have multiple teams doing the same job? At the same time, networking is complex and taking too long. We need to move ahead. We need the networking teams to be more involved in the virtual world, but it's not happening at this point, whether due to a lack of education or solutions or skill sets. But no one is going to wait for [networking] to catch up."

Early NSX customers tend to be an even mix of both networking and virtualization professionals, said Casado, who is also founder of Nicira, which developed the technology at the heart of NSX. Either one group or the other engages with VMware and implements the technology.

"On the question of whether [NSX buyers] are virtualization admins or more networking, it seems to be 50-50," Casado said.

While both IT silos are buying NSX, Casado said the best engagements are cross-silo teams. In fact, NSX adoption is ideal for IT organizations that are organizing around cloud, where all the IT silos must break down, he said.

"The more successful projects are those where both teams are working together," he said.

In the meantime, NSX customers should make sure the platform isn't implemented in complete isolation from the legacy networking team.

"Any time you have multiple people doing the same job, you are going to have errors, because the policies are going to be different," Kindness said. "Things will be set up [in the physical and virtual worlds], and there will be confusion between the two."

Many of NSX and Nicira's early customers are cloud providers, Web companies and large financial institutions, where infrastructure teams are expected to be dynamic because they are business differentiators. In the broader enterprise market, network organizations may be more skeptical about NSX. And this could lead to the virtualization team operating NSX in isolation.

"[NSX] will be well received by VMware's core customer base, but it won't convince networking buyers that VMware understands the critical issues," said Joe Skorupa, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

Next Steps

VMware NSX brings advanced networking to virtualization, but that may not be enough

Network vendors integrate hardware switches with VMware NSX

Shamus McGillicuddy on how NSX will change network virtualization

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VMworld 2013 conference coverage

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