VMware Leaning Heavily Toward Networking

Is VMware poised to become the next networking powerhouse? That’s the conclusion many analysts drew earlier this month at VMworld in Las Vegas.

The company displayed a wealth of technologies at the event — everything from new virtualization and container tools to edge capabilities and management stacks — but it was the company’s forays into networking technology that caught many observers’ eyes.

Tech analyst Kurt Marko, for example, views the NSX platform as VMware’s secret weapon in the war over emerging cloud- and edge-centric infrastructure. As more of the enterprise workload becomes distributed over a wide area, the one thing organizations will need is “a multi-cloud abstraction layer that insulates users and applications from the idiosyncrasies of the various services.” NSX has the potential to become such a layer, providing portability across Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Alibaba Cloud and other infrastructure as a service (IaaS) platforms.

A key element in VMware’s overall strategy, says Biz Tech’s Phil Goldstein, is the SD-WAN, which CEO Pat Gelsinger describes as the hottest piece of the company’s overall portfolio. The recent purchase of VeloCloud allows VMware to change the economics of cloud and edge networking by lessening the cost of management and operations. At the same time, it reduces network errors, which tend to rise in highly dynamic environments, while streamlining complex architectures under a single interface. The overall effect is a singular IT structure spread out to the cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT) edge.

This will put VMware on a collision course with Cisco, says Light Reading’s Mitch Wagner, but the company does not appear to be shying away from this fight. Indeed, its emerging strategies around application awareness and microsegmentation appear to take direct aim at Cisco’s intent-based approach to virtual networking. Through microsegmentation, VMware hopes to foster improved management and security for environments that are too distributed for traditional firewalls, while application awareness provides for a more hands-off approach to management by allowing apps themselves to define their requirements.

This is only the beginning, however. At VMWorld, the company unveiled three projects exploring the ways in which artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and edge computing can support distributed virtual environments. Project Dimension is aimed at delivering cloud capabilities to the edge as managed services by supporting Cloud Foundation on hyperconverged infrastructure. Meanwhile, Project Magna utilizes reinforcement learning and other AI techniques to create self-optimizing virtual infrastructure, while Project Concord strives for digital consensus and smart contract execution in trusted sharing environments.

VMware remains a diverse company, with its flagship server virtualization technology still at the heart of its portfolio. But as the world becomes more dependent on networking — in part the result of the modern virtualization era that VMware created — the company finds itself drawn more and more to novel ways to foster greater and more diverse connectivity.

When the entire world’s compute and storage capabilities are available for the taking, the only way the enterprise can distinguish itself is to build a better, cheaper network.

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.

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