Will VMware NSX polarize or unite server and networking teams?

Software defined networking could break down silos and create a converged IT family, but there's bound to be sibling rivalry along the way.

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VMware had a lot to say last month about its new NSX platform, but there are still plenty of hurdles for many companies when it comes to achieving the vision of the software defined data center. One of those hurdles, which is common among many large businesses, is not a technical challenge but an organizational one. For years, siloed IT departments have been the standard organizational structure. These divisions make new technologies that cross the lines between servers, storage and networking difficult for businesses to coordinate. This month, we ask our Advisory Board experts if IT silos will stand in the way of software defined data centers, or will products like NSX help break down barriers between server, networking and storage teams?

Jason Helmick, Concentrated Technology LLC

VMware's launch of NSX - boldly going into network virtualization - has created and invigorated the conversation around software-defined networking (SDN). Server admins are leading the pack, moving quickly to SDN. Already juiced with virtualization endorphins, server admins can be seen drooling at the possibility of a kinder, gentler network, where they could remove all that messy network infrastructure for the one-click virtualization of switches, routers, load balancers and firewalls.

Groaning like a slow moving zombie is the network professional, who - while justifiably skeptical at all this - is looking at their future mortgage payments and wondering if it's time to start expanding his knowledge outside the network.

For the business, it's just too soon to firmly commit to SDN, just as it was 10 years ago with server virtualization. It will take years to pay off existing hardware investments and SDN has still to go a long way through the "proving grounds" of reliability.

Networking professionals have very valuable networking knowledge that can help the business gradually make the transition to a successful software-defined network. Make no mistake, if the buzz around VMware's NSX is any indication, there will be a transition.

Technology does advance and as existing hardware reaches end-of-life, SDN will be providing a cost efficient and stable replacement. Just as virtualization changed the world of servers, so too will SDN change networks. Gather server admins and network professionals and investigate solutions to move forward together. It may take years, but beginning the learning process now helps the business and everyone that has to worry about paying a mortgage.

Brian Kirsch, Milwaukee Area Technical College

The introduction of NSX -- and lack of Cisco involvement at launch -- instantly re-enforced the existing data center silos lines. These silos are as old as IT itself. Until VMware, people had little reason people had to cross those lines. With the software-defined data center, the hard silo lines have greyed considerably and we are slowly moving to an ideal world where silos do not exist and we are one converged IT family.  

However, this journey could take years or longer to soften these lines that have been established over time. VMware’s theme at VMworld 2013 was “Defy Convention,” and to their credit, they are providing the tools to do it smartly. Was it just a coincidence that entry-level certifications and training for the VMware Certified Associate (VCA) came out just as VMware is beginning the big push into both the networking and application space? I don't think so. What better way break down a few silos than with some free training for folks that only have known VMware from a distance.

VMware knows this software-defined network journey will not be quick and will have more than a few bumps in the road. The VCA is small but critical offering organizations can use to bridge the gap between silos . While this alone won’t win over everyone it is an olive branch until Cisco fully embraces this next stage in data center evolution. 

Rob McShinsky, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center

The days of network virtualization are coming and skepticism about how safe, stable or how robust it will be are natural. Server virtualization has gone through these same psychological growing pains for years, but now if you found a large company that was not using server virtualization,  you would think there was something wrong.

I like what VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger had to say about NSX: "This is like ESX in 2004. We're just beginning to mine a rich vein of innovation that we think has a decade ahead of us."  

VMware may not be the leader in SDN today, or in the future, but the company realizes network virtualization is the reality of the future and is putting great resources toward becoming a name in this space. My personal feeling is that VMware could have sped adoption and acceptance by reluctant network engineers by working with Cisco on an integrated solution, but I understand that approach does not provide an additional revenue stream they so desperately need. Cisco also believes it will be the leader in the network virtualization space and does not need to hitch its wagon to any one partner.

The psychological resistance to network virtualization will break down just as it has for other virtualization technologies. Does having it bundled under the VMware name help or hurt its adoption? Will network, server and storage engineers be able to easily accept this transition from the physical to virtual layer and establish trust? For VMware, the answers to those two questions will determine its success. For those of us working in technology, it’s like the first day of school. Opening the door and walking in will be the hardest part.

Dave Sobel, Level Platforms Inc.

VMWare's new NSX platform adds lots of new capabilities, as more and more of the data center is virtualized. It's a compelling story, but one that may get bogged down in large enterprises that are focused heavily on IT silos, having different server, networking and storage teams. To truly take advantage of these new capabilities, IT organizations will have to ensure collaboration is tight and well-coordinated. NSX breaks down the barrier between the technologies, but if the groups do not break down their own rigid nature, organizations will not be able to take advantage.  IT organizations should ensure they have cross-functional teams making design decisions together, embrace collaborative planning of requirements and be held collectively responsible to efficiency targets.

This was first published in September 2013

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