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Gigamon brings visibility to VMware's NSX

Network management isn’t the sexiest thing in IT and it certainly hasn’t been in the evolution of the software defined data center, but it’s certainly an important part of the overall ecosystem.

The last week of August is always a big week for me. My kids go back to school, it’s the start of hockey season for my youngest child, and it’s typically when VMware holds its user conference, VMworld. As expected, one of the highlights of the show was the evolution of VMware’s NSX platform – the product that enables network virtualization. There were many product announcements regarding NSX, including VMware beefing up OpenStack support.

One of the announcements that I thought flew under the radar was Gigamon’s collaboration with VMware to deliver better visibility into NSX environments. Network management isn’t the sexiest thing in IT and it certainly hasn’t been in the evolution of the software defined data center, but it’s certainly an important part of the overall ecosystem. The key to good network management, though, is visibility as you can’t manage what you can’t see, and visibility is what Gigamon brings to the dance.

I’ve interviewed many network managers regarding their thoughts on NSX, and the biggest hesitation in looking at the product is it’s invisible to the physical network. Given the growing complexity and importance of the network, most organizations struggle to run one network. Now add in overlay networks and the prevailing feeling is that NSX-based virtualization adds to the complexity of networking today.

Gigamon’s new offering provides pervasive visibility into both the physical and virtual networks by integrating Gigamon’s visibility fabric into NSX. The visibility fabric is comprised of the traditional distributed physical nodes as well as virtual nodes that provide a high level of filtering intelligence and end-to-end visibility.

Technically, the joint solution enables Gigamon’s virtual node to run inside a VMware hypervisor and monitor traffic from there. NSX uses the vSwitches that are deployed in server hypervisors and creates a VM-to-VM connection to invoke a virtual network. The virtual networks are created using an encapsulation protocol called VXLAN which creates logical layer 2 networks overtop of a layer 3 network, extending the layer 2 network across physical network boundaries.

Gigamon is able to monitor the performance and flows of the VXLAN traffic to give the network operations team end-to-end visibility of the virtual domains than run on top of the physical network. Additionally, Gigamon has a feature called GigaSMART Header Stripping that allows the visibility fabric to look inside the encapsulated packets to see what applications are running across the virtual networks. This can help troubleshoot application performance problems that run inside the NSX-based network. Also, because the visibility node is running inside a hypervisor as a virtual instance, if a vMotion is triggered, all of the monitoring policies can be migrated with the VM. This feature can actually be automated so the visibility fabric stays in place no matter how the VMs and virtual networks change.

Typically, the management of IT stuff often trails the deployment of the stuff by a few years. Given the critical role the network plays in mobility, cloud and Internet of Things, organizations need to make management a priority. Gigamon is the first vendor I’ve seen that’s been able to bridge that physical/virtual boundary and bring the necessary levels of visibility to NSX, allowing businesses to remove the blind spots that exist today. I said at the beginning that network management isn’t considered something that’s all that sexy, but maybe in a virtual world, the un-sexy just became sexy.

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