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VMware network virtualization software heralds prospects for MSPs

While MSPs and their customers are generally tepid toward it, observers foresee market growth on the horizon with VMware network virtualization software.

The nascent field of network virtualization has yet to take off for most managed services providers (MSPs), but some observers say the maturation of VMware network virtualization software could boost the market's prospects.

Managed service providers had early expectations for the network virtualization space. More than half of the service providers responding to a Techaisle survey planned to offer the service in 2014.

However, those plans have not panned out, as the technology is still evolving and awareness among small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) is limited, according to Anurag Agrawal, an analyst with Techaisle, a global SMB research organization. At the end of 2014, only 36% of MSPs said they were presently offering network virtualization and less than 10% of that group reported having any SMB customers that were using network virtualization, Agrawal noted.

Network virtualization software provides virtual networks with components similar to a physical network and include switches, routers, firewalls, load balancers and virtual private networks (VPNs), said Agrawal.

"Network virtualization is the creation, provisioning and management of virtual networks through software programs," he said. "These get dynamically provisioned depending upon workload requirements of a virtual machine. A physical network is still required to move the data packets."

Getting up to speed

While MSPs are generally lukewarm on network virtualization, so too are their customers. TechTarget's 2015 IT Priorities Survey, which polled IT professionals in end user organizations, revealed that 28% of the respondents planned to implement network virtualization this year. Confusion over technical terminology may be limiting the percentage of IT buyers and MSPs interested in network virtualization.

When you talk to channel partners, they don't really understand what network virtualization is. When you delve deeper within MSPs, they start to understand.
Anurag Agrawalanalyst, Techaisle

Agrawal said the low numbers are likely due to the fact that a lot of people are still not clear about what network virtualization is and tend to confuse it with software-defined networking (SDN) or software-defined data centers (SDDC).

"When you talk to channel partners, they don't really understand what network virtualization is," he said. "When you delve deeper within MSPs, they start to understand and they say, 'What we want to offer is a software-driven capability for an end customer to manage their network infrastructure, and therefore, it will become easier for us to also manage that network.'"

Right now there are few MSPs that are doing network virtualization for their clients, he said, but if they are already managing their clients' data centers, network virtualization is the next logical step.

Prepping for VMware network virtualization software

That's where Network Medics finds itself. NSX 6.1 is the VMware network virtualization platform the company would utilize if the opportunity came in to assist with a data center deployment or large-scale project deployment, said Kevin Calgren, partner at the Minneapolis-based MSP and IT consulting firm. VMware launched NSX 6.1 in 2014.

"We will be rolling out VMware NSX in 2016 internally, depending on how the product progresses for [the] VitalVM Private Cloud/multi-tenant environment," Calgren said. "It's slated for 2016 because NSX currently has some incompatibility issues at this time with other VMware products we already have deployed."

VitalVM is Network Medics' hosted or cloud network offering for small businesses, according to the company.

Calgren said network virtualization would be advantageous for any type of project that requires streamlining and provisioning of network resources, "especially if it reduces the need for network engineers to run around or between data centers making switching changes."

Echoing Agrawal, Calgren said once MSPs begin to land network virtualization projects, they should remind their customers that a physical network will still be required to actually move information between devices.

"This is kind of a 'Well, duh,' but it is forgotten sometimes by the client asking for help," he noted. That means it is still important to audit the infrastructure to make sure customers are not going to be battling through bottlenecks after deployment, he added.

Additionally, "With NSX, it is important that automation is comprehensive,'' Calgren said. "Otherwise, the network will be overly complex, as there could exist multiple management systems for performance or failure."

He also said it's important to meet the necessary security and compliance requirements for an MSP to operate its business. NSX helps streamline the tasks required for security and compliance needs, Calgren said.

"NSX is a solid solution for tightening security on virtual traffic -- primarily if the client is a 100% VMware environment," he said. "Note that even virtualized environments will need perimeter security outside of the NSX solution."

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