Can The Success of Server Virtualization Be Repeated in Networking?

The software-defined networking is the new buzzword for network centralization, which is also known as OpenFlow or network virtualization. The idea is to centralize the control to a server (or a cluster of servers) called controller.

With the acquisition of Nicira by VMware, the software-defined networking has caught many eyeballs from the community. From there, VMware extended it to a new vision called software-defined datacenter which includes three elements of computing: compute, network, and storage.

Bothered by SLOW Web UI to manage vSphere? Want to manage ALL your VMware vCenters, AWS, Azure, Openstack, container behind a SINGLE pane of glass? Want to search, analyze, report, visualize VMs, hosts, networks, datastores, events as easily as Google the Web? Find out more about vSearch 3.0: the search engine for all your private and public clouds.

With VMware’s dominance in server virtualization, the software-defined datacenter presents a new opportunity to grow into new areas like network and storage. Because of the acquisition, most people believed VMware had moved Cisco’s cheese and there would be inevitably some conflicts between the two companies moving forward.

Which is more important, Software or Networking?

Technically speaking, the software-defined networking has two aspects: one is the defining software, and the other is the networking. VMware and Cisco both have its winning strengths. From high level, Cisco for sure knows better about networking which it has helped to grow from its very beginning; VMware certainly knows the software better as demonstrated by its success in server virtualization.

The question is – can they repeat their success from either networking or virtualization into the new area? Of the two aspects, which one is more important as a success factor?

What’s Different This Time in Networking?

The success of server virtualization is mostly to the credit of VMware which had picked up the technology from IBM mainframes and developed it on the dominant X86 server market. Looking back at history, I think it’s also partially to the credit of Microsoft. It’s not because of the competition from Hyper-V that moves the market faster, but because of the hardware abstraction and ecosystem Microsoft had successfully created. It may not sound straight-forward, but let me explain it a bit more.

In the early history of computer, the hardware and software (and more often than not, services) are all bundled together. IBM chose Microsoft to provide DOS for its PC. Microsoft grabbed this opportunity and created a new layer above hardware but below application, and successfully marketed it as a separate product in the whole stack. After this, PC industry has moved to clear layers with high specialization: hardware by IHVs like HP, Lenovo, Dell; Operating Systems by Microsoft and later Linux; middleware and application by ISVs like SAP.

With this layered structure, Microsoft made huge money. It also opens a door for the later virtualization – in some way hypervisor layer is very much like OS. Having one layer (OS) there helps another layer (hypervisor) to sneak in. Without the OS layer there in the first place, it would be pretty hard for a smooth adoption of VMware virtualization. The business model for VMware to market its vSphere is very much the same as Microsoft markets its Windows – they talk to the same IHVs for huge OEM deals.

In networking world, we don’t see a clear separation of layers that are owned by different vendors. Most networking companies sell boxes bundled with hardware and software. There is no “Microsoft” in play as it’s in compute stack. Inserting an abstraction layer by another vendor would be extremely hard, if ever possible.

What is Going to Happen?

As I mentioned in the previous post, the niche that SDN can play is with large scale green-field datacenters. There will hardly any player can dominate the high value “controller” market in the same way as Microsoft does with OS and VMware with hypervisor. The concept of network stack is simply not there due to various reasons.

The technology will be quickly adopted by networking vendors who will also develop the controllers by themselves or acquire startup companies. Once the technology is mature enough, these networking vendors will bundle them with existing products and gradually market them to existing customers.

For virtualization software vendors like VMware, they still have places in the game. Because they mostly own the virtual networking, they can apply these SDN related technologies over there. It remains to be seen whether they can break the virtual boundary into physical networking.

This entry was posted in Cloud Computing, Virtualization and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Posted May 6, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Can The Success of Server Virtualization Be Repeated in Networking? via @sjin2008

  2. Posted May 6, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Can The Success of Server Virtualization Be Repeated in Networking? (DoubleCloud)

  3. Posted May 7, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Can The Success of Server Virtualization Be Repeated in Networking? –

  4. Posted May 7, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    .@sjin2008 asks: Can The Success of Server #Virtualization Be Repeated in Networking? #SDN

  5. Posted May 23, 2013 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    Really a good post with interesting considerations.
    Also networking design is changing moving from L2 to L3 (for example with VXLAN or in spine/leaf architectures) and more control and abstraction could be needed.

  6. Posted May 26, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Andrew,
    That is true. I think I need to learn a bit more VXLAN. :)

One Trackback

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


    My company has created products like vSearch ("Super vCenter"), vijavaNG APIs, EAM APIs, ICE tool. We also help clients with virtualization and cloud computing on customized development, training. Should you, or someone you know, need these products and services, please feel free to contact me: steve __AT__

    Me: Steve Jin, VMware vExpert who authored the VMware VI and vSphere SDK by Prentice Hall, and created the de factor open source vSphere Java API while working at VMware engineering. Companies like Cisco, EMC, NetApp, HP, Dell, VMware, are among the users of the API and other tools I developed for their products, internal IT orchestration, and test automation.