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VMware NSX architecture offers partners SDDC integration opportunities

Channel partners with experience in software-defined data centers have a good opportunity to build integration services and consulting work around the VMware NSX architecture.

Software-defined data centers (SDDCs) -- which virtualize and deliver all aspects of the infrastructure as a service -- are increasingly being considered by data centers as users seek additional resources on an as-needed basis. An SDDC integrates previously separate storage, networking and server silos.

VMware has capitalized on the trend with the introduction of the next version of its NSX 6.1 network virtualization platform, which adds in networking and security services, said Kevin Gruneisen, senior director for Cloud and Data Center Solutions at Logicalis US, which is based in New York.

"They're focusing on virtualizing your network and storage, and providing … more agility for customers through the use of their tools," he said.

The complexity in getting there is fairly high, and any time there's complexity, it's a good opportunity for the channel to move to help out.
Zeus Kerravalaprincipal analyst, ZK Research

The concept of the software-defined data center is to provide an orchestrated operation, so, if a user wants to make a change in the data center, it changes all the components, which is part of the value proposition of the NSX architecture, said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. "The concern, however, is if there's a security problem it will affect the entire data center'' under this concept, he said. "It's much harder to isolate" where the problem is coming from, he added.

The enhancements VMware has made will alleviate part of the security problem, "but there's still a 'show me' [attitude] that needs to happen,'' Kerravala said. "But NSX should help offset some concerns there."

NSX and the idea behind SDDC present a very grand vision of the whole data center running from a single point or a couple of different points, Kerravala said. "The complexity in getting there is fairly high, and any time there's complexity, it's a good opportunity for the channel to move to help out."

Ashish Nadkarni, a research director at IDC, said VMware is looking to leverage its installed base and ecosystem "and put themselves at [the] center of [the] universe" with the notion that everything revolves around the ESXi hypervisor for deploying virtual systems. That was a fair-enough assumption with compute and storage, he said, "but with networking, I think it's a whole other game. … VMware has a bit of an uphill climb."

Typically, in most companies, Nadkarni said, "networking folks don't play ball with storage and compute guys. Networking is much bigger, and [networking staff] don't need to have their stuff as integrated as the compute and storage guys do, which is where I think the friction comes in."

For example, if you have a Cisco shop and have standardized the majority of your infrastructure on Cisco but then try to take the VMware approach with the NSX architecture, it will be more challenging to get your networking staff on board, Nadkarni maintained.

There is also presently no standard when it comes to software-defined storage or software-defined networking, he added, and VMware is competing with different standards being pushed by Cisco and Juniper, among others. "If the channel's strategy revolves around VMware's products, then you're going to have a bit of a challenge opposing that strategy," Nadkarni said.

VMware partners can start helping customers by offering integration services, ZK Research's Kerravala said. "There will be no shortage of opportunities for channel partners to lead with services and become a strategic partner for VMware. … It's not like [NSX] is cookie-cutter. Even if you get a cookie-cutter [product] it's still an opportunity for customization, and that's where the channel has an opportunity to lead with some services."

Deployments of NSX are still fairly limited -- and complicated, Kerravala added, because NSX is a virtual overlay to something that had been purely physical before. Right now, 40% of the total cost of ownership in data center costs is people, he said, and deploying an SDDC can automate a lot of processes and take those people costs down to 25% or 30%, which is a big payoff for companies.

In an SDDC world, IT organizations will have to be restructured so that the networking, storage and server silos learn to work together, and this is where partners can help, Nadkarni agreed. With virtualization and now the movement toward SDDCs, "they don't have the right operational structure inside. Companies struggle with … how to structure IT now. If VMware can help the channel understand the best practices of the people and how organizations should structure their operational teams to take advantage of NSX, that's where they'll see true benefit."

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What problems could a software-defined data center solve for your customers?
A software-defined data center could help most importantly in the area of computer hardware. Customers would no longer need to have specialized hardware for any purpose; instead, applications such as storage and networking would be defined by IT, which would also do the same for all resources that they would need and create a logical application therefrom. By the same token, they would no longer need to have hardware installed and programmed by consultants.