VMware: Cloud-centric businesses need a cloud-centric network

VMware’s Virtual Cloud Network provides an agile network and security overlay that acts as a “fabric” to connect apps, data, and users to each other.

VMware announces Virtual Cloud Network at Dell Technology World
Zeus Kerravala

It’s May, and that means all the April showers we had will soon bring spring flowers. April and May are also busy conference months, as many vendors host customer, partner, or analyst events. This week, it was Dell’s turn as the company held its first-ever Dell Technologies World. Dell has obviously had other user events before, including Dell World and Dell-EMC World, but the naming of this one is indicative of how Dell is now one company and there’s better product and go-to-market integration between Dell, EMC and VMware.

VMware introduces Virtual Cloud Network

As expected, much of the news at the show revolved around Dell Technologies compute products. But the network got some love, as well, when VMware announced its Virtual Cloud Network, which is the coming together of many of its network assets, including NSX and VeloCloud. The Virtual Cloud Network can be thought as an agile network and security overlay that acts as a “fabric” for digital businesses that connect apps, data, and users to each other regardless of where they are located.

vmware virtual cloud network VMware

During his keynote, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger (pictured above) talked about the difference between traditional IT and what IT needs to do to power digital businesses. Current IT models focus primarily on on-premises infrastructure, and despite the tight control, change management cycles are long and security is a challenge. Today apps and data are scattered everywhere, making running and securing the network even harder, and legacy operating models are holding companies back.

The network needs to evolve into a flexible, secure and programmable fabric

The current network architecture has been in place now for over 20 years, and it’s VMware’s thesis that the industry needs a new approach to networking that can be in place for the next 20 years. This requires a network that is flexible and programmable with integrated security and can deliver services anywhere apps and data are. VMware’s Virtual Cloud Network is the architecture that fulfills on this vision. The NSX portfolio now includes the following:

  • NSX SD-WAN, powered by VeloCloud, addresses connectivity and security services and ensures application performance remains high across the WAN. One of the primary drivers of NSX in the data center has been segmentation, and now NSX SD-WAN and NSX Data Center have been integrated to deliver end-to-end segmentation.
  • NSX Cloud secures enterprise hybrid clouds. The product provides a consistent set of network and security services for applications running in public and private clouds, now including Microsoft Azure.
  • NSX Data Center provides network virtualization and security within data centers. These services have been extended to support containerized cloud-native and bare-metal applications.
  • NSX Hybrid Connect enables connectivity and workload mobility between private data centers and clouds. The product also provides link optimization between locations to ensure bandwidth utilization does not become an issue.

Virtual Cloud Network is VMware’s first end-to-end solution

VMware has been collecting network assets since it acquired Nicira in 2012, but this is the first time the company has put everything together into a single architecture, giving it a true “end to end” story. The multiple products enable customers to start small and then grow into the larger vision of the Virtual Cloud Network at their own pace.

For example, a business may choose to reap the cost savings benefits of SD-WAN and deploy NSX SD-WAN immediately. It can use the product to transform the WAN and set up network segmentation to secure the network. The company could then choose to deploy NSX Data Center and extend the segments created over the WAN to the data center. NSX Hybrid Connect could then be used to enable workload portability out to public clouds and then be secured by NSX Cloud.

Alternatively, one could start with the data center and work out. The key is that VMware provides customers a tremendous amount of flexibility as to how and where to start.

VMware finally “gets” networking

The flexibility of Virtual Cloud Network is notable for VMware and signals that the company finally understands how to deal with network operations. When it first bought Nicira, it took a very aggressive approach to disrupting the network and often compared it to server virtualization. I get the analogy, but it’s not exactly the same. Server operations had the luxury of trying virtualization tier two or three applications. There’s no equivalent of that with the network; there’s just one, and disrupting it means disrupting the business. With the Virtual Cloud Network, a business could address an immediate pain point and then gradually ease their way into a broader deployment.

There’s no question the world is becoming more dynamic and distributed. Applications, data, and compute services have a tremendous amount of agility, and the network needs to follow. I’ve been critical of VMWare’s approach to networking in the past, but the Virtual Cloud Network is VMware’s best architecture to date, as it gives its customers the ability to deploy the right network and security services wherever they want, whenever they want, without disrupting business operations.

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