VMware's Software-Defined Vision

LAS VEGAS, Aug. 29, 2018 — In terms of new product announcements, VMworld 2018 was surprisingly, almost shockingly, quiet. The Day One General Session by CEO Pat Gelsinger had some cool moments, for sure. But there was nothing new announced during the Day Two General Session (which was dominated by an inspiring interview with Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai), and the press release parade usually accompanying VMworld was more of a three-person stroll down the street.
Despite that, certain trends emerged loud and clear from the keynotes as well as the session lineup and overall emphasis of the week. If I was to characterize the two major themes coming out of VMware in terms of the company’s vision from this show, it would be this:

  1. Multi-cloud computing is the future
  2. Software-defined networking (SDN), via NSX, will enable that future

Multi-cloud will be covered in future articles, so this will focus on SDN. During the week, VMware touted the ability of its software-defined data center (SDDC) platform to cross every infrastructure boundary there is, including the local data center, the network edge for supporting Internet of Things (IoT) devices, hybrid clouds and public clouds. And to do that takes very sophisticated SDN, so the two themes are closely related and intertwined. You can’t do multi-cloud and SDDC without SDN; and the SDN of choice for organizations, in VMware’s biased view, is NSX.
NSX comes in two flavors: NSX and NSX-T. It’s important to understand the difference. NSX is VMware-only. You can use NSX-T on VMware as well, but you can also use it on OpenStack, with containers, with Kubernetes, and so on. You cannot use NSX in those non-VMware environments.
NSX-T has been growing greatly in importance, and that was reflected by VMware this week. The major SDN announcement at the show was the unveiling of VMware NSX-T Data Center 2.3, scheduled for release sometime this fall. NSX-T Data Center 2.3 extends advanced multi-cloud networking and security capabilities to AWS, in addition to Microsoft Azure and on-premises environments. A VMware executive confirmed to me that Google Cloud Platform (GCP) is also fully supported.
An exciting feature of NSX-T Data Center 2.3 is that it supports bare-metal hosts. These can include Linux-based workloads running on bare-metal servers, as well as containers running bare-metal servers without a hypervisor. If you know anything about VMware’s past, you’ll understand the shift this new functionality represents. For years, VMware was focused on pushing its hypervisor, ESXi, at all costs. You ran on VMware and only VMware. That mindset was behind the company’s failed efforts to build its own VMware-specific public cloud, vCloud Air. The thought was to keep customers VMware-only through the entire stack, from the data center to the public cloud. This is known as vendor lock-in.
But when vCloud Air crashed and burned, VMware quickly pivoted toward AWS and partnered up with their former public cloud rival. In no time they became besties, and VMware publicly calls Amazon “our special partner” in public cloud (a designation not used for Microsoft, Google et al.)
This partnership is on full view with the update. VMware NSX-T Data Center 2.3 deepens the integration with AWS, and NSX-T forms the connective tissue. A key feature (currently in preview) that will be enabled is micro-segmentation, which allows greater network isolation and significantly enhances security. This obviously important when it comes to the multi-cloud world.
Another aim of NSX-T Data Center 2.3, says VMware, is to simplify installation, configuration, and management with new deployment workflows and search functionality for objects and events. Adding VMware vRealize Automation takes things a step further, simplifying the automation of application management across multi-cloud environments.
All this is the result of SDN, and VMware is clearly the SDN leader in the industry; that really isn’t even a question. NSX has been around awhile, but the central place it has in VMware’s present and future couldn’t have been predicted.