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VMware Details Networking and Storage Improvements in Drive Towards Software Defined Data Center

by Chris Swan on Aug 28, 2013 |

VMware launched new networking and storage capabilities for its Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) at the opening keynote of VMworld 2013, delivering products it promised a year ago.

By modifying its VSphere hypervisor to do both compute (ESX) and storage (VSAN), and adding a ‘network hypervisor’ (NSX) to the lineup, VMware has now revealed how it will execute on its promise for SDDC.

The ‘hypervisor for the network’ is branded as NSX (to preserve naming lineage from earlier compute products GSX and ESX). The platform for network virtualization combines Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV).  Its primary use case is to create an overlay network of virtual switches that in turn connect into the virtual network interface ports of virtual machines. Such an overlay isolates the virtual machine environment from the configuration (and much of the need to configure) of the underlying network.

An NSX implementation may span virtual and physical networks. It can run over the top of existing network hardware, but it can also be used to configure equipment that supports SDN interfaces from various partners, including most brand name networking vendors. VMware highlighted partnerships across the industry, including Cisco, but NSX is a part of an overall trend to commoditize network equipment. When the network is managed in vCenter (along with other virtual assets) then there will be less need for specialised hardware or those with the skills to mange it.

In addition to switching and routing, NSX also offers firewall and edge services (such as VPN gateways and load balancing). This is being seen as a game changer for data center networks, by analysts familiar with virtual networking and has the potential to further disrupt the hardware based networking ecosystem.

VMware’s strategy for software defined storage is fairly broad, and there were a number of announcements relating to storage. The main new feature (presently in public beta) is called Virtual Storage Area Network (VSAN), and allows the direct attached storage (both flash and conventional) on an array of servers to be presented to VMs as if it was a regular SAN.

The VSAN implementation is baked into the new VSphere 5.5 Hypervisor, though separate licensing is required for activation. VSAN uses ‘network RAID’ to distribute virtual disks across a number of servers to improve performance and resilience. On launch scalability is limited to 3-8 physical servers, with greater scale promised for future versions.

VMware branded virtual storage will impact parts of the VMware ecosystem that have independently offered similar functionality (such as Nutanix), but it will also impact the hardware based storage business for VMware’s parent EMC and competitors such as NetApp. As compute, storage and networking become commoditized by Open Source Hardware such as the Open Compute Project (OCP) VMware is trying to build value with proprietary hardware; but these efforts are under threat from commoditization from open source software in the SDDC space such as OpenStack.

 

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