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VMware NSX trial option on the way -- for some

VMware still hasn't allowed public access to a try-before-you-buy NSX evaluation, but a VMUG EVALExperience option is in the works.

VMware hasn't offered a trial version of its network virtualization software to the IT community at large, but...

is considering a program to give certain VMUG members early access to NSX.

Last week, some vExperts noticed they could download and install an evaluation version of NSX 6.2, which led some to believe VMware planned to broaden public access to NSX evaluations.

Maish Saidel-Keesing, a platform architect at Cisco, wrote in a blog he could access a 60-day evaluation version of NSX, despite not having purchased the product. A half dozen other vExperts said they'd heard nothing of expanded NSX access and confirmed they were still unable to download the product.

VMware has not changed its policy for how it makes NSX evaluation copies available, a company spokesperson said. Evaluation licenses are available to qualified individuals and organizations as outlined in the company's documentation, including individuals who have completed NSX training courses, the spokesperson said 

"The only way someone would have access to see NSX via their MyVMware account is if a company he or she works for [in this case Cisco] purchased NSX and then assigned the individual rights," the spokesperson said.

Adding to the confusion is that all vExperts are given licenses for NSX, but until recently those license keys have been useless, as they have been unable to access the software download through the MyVMware portal. Lack of access to an evaluation version of NSX has been a major issue for many users, said Keith Townsend, an infrastructure architect and vExpert.

"We have licenses. We don't have media. VMware is protecting the bits. If we can get our hands on the code, we each have licenses," Townsend said.

However, it's possible that an evaluation option for NSX may not be far off. The VMware spokesperson confirmed that VMware is considering an NSX evaluation option in partnership with the VMware User Group (VMUG).

"At VMworld, company executives discussed the VMUG EVALExperience program, and the company is assessing the possibility of a pilot with NSX, and it could start as early as Q4. However this timeline was not definitive and we offered no additional details on the pilot program," the company spokesperson said.

The EVALExperience program gives VMUG Advantage members year-long access to trial versions of many VMware products. The program, which launched earlier this year, includes access to evaluation versions of vRealize products, the vCloud Suite and Virtual SAN.

Three sources involved with VMUG said they are unsure whether the NSX evaluation version will be open to all VMUG Advantage members, or just those who have been pre-approved by VMware. Those sources said the discussion with VMware executives set a Q4 2015 target for the addition of NSX to EVALExperience, as well as plans to offer an evaluation version of AirWatch, VMware's enterprise mobility management software.

For now, the only way to download and install an evaluation version of the software is to complete an "NSX: Install, Configure, Manage" training course, attend a two-day NSX seminar or purchase NSX.

Lack of NSX access slowing adoption

VMware has faced criticism over the last few years for keeping such a tight grip on NSX, enforcing much stricter access controls than it does for other products in its portfolio. VMware acquired the technology behind NSX when it purchased Nicira Networks for $1.2 billion in 2012.

VMware made the product generally available in October 2013, but IT pros have been frustrated by the lack of trial or evaluation options -- which many cite as a barrier to adoption.  An evaluation option would allow IT professionals to deploy and test NSX in their own environment to prove to management that it would be worth the investment. Given the price of the product -- $4,995 per CPU or $34 per VM, per month -- proof-of-concept testing will be critical for many organizations, said Carl Brooks, an IT industry analyst at 451 Research based in New York.

"Essentially, VMware needs to do more to incentivize their partners -- which represent the major distribution channels -- to deliver NSX to the enterprise clients they serve," Brooks said. "They can do this by making pricing more attractive, or let them try before they buy. Other than that, they could give it away or open source it, but that doesn't seem viable given what they paid for it."

Some analysts believe VMware is being too conservative in making trial or free versions of NSX and other products with lackluster sales, including EVO:RAIL, available to users. The company needs to face the marketing realities in what is becoming voraciously competitive market segment, they said.

"[VMware] hasn't fully comprehended the necessary shift in monetization that has to happen in order to sell successfully into the new environment," said Geoff Woollacott, a principal analyst and practice manager at Technology Business Research, Inc. in Hampton, N.H. "Freeware has to happen, but the challenge with free or limited versions is customers won't see the full functionality."

There's no indication that a VMUG-hosted NSX evaluation would be less than full-featured, but analysts warn that even if there is an enthusiastic acceptance of free or evaluation versions of NSX, the company needs to ensure it has plowed enough money into tech support to handle the new users. If the support team is overrun and users can't get their questions answered quickly, they are apt to put the product aside and move on.

"If you don't have the requisite technical support services to properly and quickly train users on a product's capabilities, then you shouldn't bother giving them a free piece of software," Woollacott said. "VMware needs to establish more aggressive tech support to back up what would be a new sales model."

It is critical, some analysts believe, that VMware make NSX a success if it hopes to stay front of mind among large businesses that want to fundamentally restructure their data centers. 

"Their road to remaining relevant is in network virtualization and network security, but they have to finish the last leg by virtualizing the data fabric, which is the network," Woollacott said. "Once that is solved the next problem is securing the data, which won't be done the way it was in the past."

NSX and VMware lock-in

However, some IT professionals think the problems with VMware NSX extend beyond access to an evaluation version. Trevor Pott, IT consultant with Alberta, Canada-based eGeek Consulting, Ltd., said Nicira was doing just fine on its own and that the technology was better before VMware got its hands on it.

"My biggest issue is that if Nicira was its own company, it would have broader support outside the immediate VMware ecosystem, which is important for any SDN play," Pott said.

What many don't realize, Pott said, is VMware split Nicira's technology into two separate NSX products: A version that's compatible with multiple hypervisors, and a version that works only with VMware's hypervisor.

"NSX for VMware [NSX-V] seems to get more love than the multi-platform stuff," Pott said. "That's unfortunate, because Nicira was looking at being fully multi-platform. … Modern data centers are heterogeneous."

Nick Martin is a senior site editor for SearchServerVirtualization. Contact him at nmartin@techtarget.com

Ed Scannell is a senior executive editor for TechTarget. Contact him at escannell@techtarget.com.

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