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SDN will never happen, says VMware exec

So says the head of VMware's network virtualization business unit

By , Network World
January 13, 2014 06:33 AM ET
Steve Mullaney
Steve Mullaney

Network World - Rack and stack that network and then walk away and leave it alone. VMware's NSX technology will provide all the control necessary going forward, says Steve Mullaney, senior vice president and general manager of VMware’s Networking & Security Business Unit. 

In a wide ranging interview with Network World Editor in Chief John Dix, Mullaney outlines the company’s vision of software controlled networks, challenges other Software Defined Networking visions, including Cisco’s ACI initiative, and outlines how the company will roll out higher layer network services. Mullaney claims the company is winning big accounts that will be made public this year, and that 2015 will see an explosion in adoption.

Describe the problem you’re trying to solve.

I think IT shops are looking at Amazon and Google and Facebook and saying, “We need to be more like them.” A primary driver is an agility requirement. IT has realized that, while it can do wonderful things on the compute side in terms of spinning up servers in seconds, the operational model of networking is still very manual, very static, very brittle. That’s the primary problem we’re solving. 
Along with that comes operational efficiency. At those big data center innovators one guy manages two or three orders of magnitude more servers than the guy in the average IT shop. So there’s an efficiency thing from an operational perspective which ultimately relates to OpEx savings. And then on the CapEx side there is the same thing. People are asking, “How can I generalize my infrastructure and have commonality so I can ultimately be more like the Googles and the Amazons?”

What NSX does is it says, the way to get to that Promised Land is through what we call a software-defined data center. We’ve seen the huge transformational characteristics of server virtualization, but we need to virtualize all the infrastructure, and that means the network as well. The network is the key enabler for that SDDC vision.

+ ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD Examining the differences between VMware's NSX and Cisco's ACI

Even though VMware endorses the software defined data center concept the company goes out of its way to avoid describing its network approach as Software Defined Networking. Why?

I guess I’m not really sure what SDN means because it means so many things to so many people. I think of it in terms of the small “s,” small “d,” small “n” meaning. Do you believe the future of the data center will be more defined by software than hardware? Yes, I do. Therefore I am an sdn, small letters, advocate. It’s a philosophy to me. It’s not a thing. 

And so yes, I believe software will define it. I believe the way to get that is through network virtualization, where you decouple your software from the underlying physical infrastructure. We think of the physical network as a fabric, the back plane. Its job is to forward packets from Point A to Point B. We will tell you what to do with that packet, then you just need to forward it. I’ve completely taken the intelligence, other than forwarding, out of the physical infrastructure and put it in software. And then, through software, can create the illusion of a fully functional network with complex services all in software.

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