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The nitty-gritty of VMware NSX

VMware NSX has become a point of pride for the vendor. Before you jump on the network virtualization bandwagon, get all the facts.

With server virtualization, VMware revolutionized how organizations deliver compute services. Now, it says it can do the same thing to networking with VMware NSX.

At VMworld this fall, the company officially took the wraps off its NSX network virtualization platform, a combination of its VMware vCloud Network and Security and the network overlay technology it acquired from Nicira Networks last year.

But among VMware's loyal server and virtualization administrators, VMware's new role as a networking vendor raises as many questions as it answers. Here are a few common ones:

What can NSX do for me?

VMware likens NSX to a familiar virtual machine (VM), able to create a fully functional network environment that relies on the underlying networking hardware only for packet forwarding. In theory, this reduces the need for high-end networking equipment. Because NSX is integrated with VMware's hypervisor and management tools, NSX automatically provisions virtual networks and services to a VM, reducing the time it takes to provision network resources. Those virtual networks and services can also follow VMs as they move around the data center, increasing flexibility.

What do I need to buy to use VMware NSX?

NSX is a net-new product in VMware's lineup. It consists of an NSX vSwitch that runs on either vSphere, KVM, Xen or Hyper-V hosts; a Controller Cluster; an optional NSX Gateway for connecting legacy VLANs and nonvirtualized hosts; and the NSX Manager, which exposes a RESTful API to cloud management platforms such as VMware vCloud Director (VCS) and vCloud Automation Center (vCAC), OpenStack and CloudStack. NSX is generally available. A 200-VM starter pack lists for $50,000 per year.

In theory, you can use NSX on top of any physical networking layer that supports IP. In practice, the question is more nuanced. To work with any degree of efficiency and speed, the physical layer should be optimized for east-west traffic patterns, according to industry experts. In addition, several physical equipment vendors have pledged to integrate the NSX Gateway into their top-of-rack switches, including Arista, Brocade, Cumulus Networks, Dell, HP and Juniper. Note, though, that Cisco is not on that list.

How does the networking team feel about NSX?

Networking junkies steeped in the world of Cisco and command lines will probably balk at NSX, which isn't integrated into their current environment. If and when it is, there's concern that it could make the networking team less relevant: At Interop last month, a panel discussed the question of "Will NSX Make Me Homeless?" But they probably shouldn't worry too much. VMware NSX is still so immature and the competitive landscape is so complex that a lot would have to change before NSX automates the networkers out of a job -- if it ever does at all.

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