Could VMware’s new networking product show it the way toward openness and growth?

The big news out of VMworld(s vmw) this morning is its NSX networking controller and the ecosystem designed to support it. With the launch, VMware is bringing together its Nicira purchase and promises it made when it bought the controller startup, but it’s also opening up in a way that could help it face its existential crisis— how to support proprietary software and high license fees in an era where the biggest market hates both and will go around you.
It’s been more than a year since VMware said it would spend more than $1 billion buying software controller, Nicira. The deal was notable because it was huge and brought software-defined networking into the mainstream, but with the launch of new ecosystem around networking, VMware’s playing nice not just with the large players, but smaller ones even those that might have been considered competitors.
The gist of the news is that VMware NSX will be the platform for network virtualization much like ESX and then Vsphere were the platform for server virtualization. VMware’s offering a slew of features including provisioning, a scalable software-based firewall and load balancing. But it’s also opening up the system to a variety of partners, form traditional network equipment vendors like Riverbed and F5 to newcomers like Cumulus and Arista.
Bringing in vendors such as Cumulus is a nod to the growing power of the webscale companies that wouldn’t never use VMware’s hypervisor or management software. Enterprise customers are looking at efforts like Facebook’s Open Compute Foundation and wondering how to lower their own costs and create those same highly efficient, scalable and flexible environments. If VMware can offer a credible product that looks both scalable and modular on the networking side, it might keep enterprise customers happy and even win over new ones.
Speaking of customers, VMware is touting both Citi and eBay as buyers of its NSX platform, although eBay was a Nicira customer prior to the VMware buy. And like many big software launches, the full suite isn’t going to be out at launch. People have to wait until the fourth quarter to purchase this.
There will be several other announcements at VMworld related to VMware’s other products outside of networking. VMware’s bread-and-butter server virtualization product, vSphere 5.5, which was previewed at last year’s show but is now generally available, claims better support for both new big data and legacy business applications.
It incorporates big data extensions based on VMware’s Project Serengeti work to make it easier to deploy Hadoop atop VMware, said John Gilmartin, VP of cloud infrastruture products. The big data extensions will be included with the vSphere 5.5 Enterprise and Enterprise Plus versions and with vCloud Suite 5.5, also available now.
The new release will also offer better support for enterprise-y SAP(s sap) and Oracle(s orcl) applications, he said. It will double the amount of logical cores supported to 320 from 160; double the amount of memory supported to 4 TB from 2 TB and will support 3,096 virtual CPUs, up from 2,040, Gilmartin said. VMware’s getting there when it comes to building a credible software defined data center. Let’s see if it can do it at a price point and margin profile that keeps its customers and its shareholders happy.
–with additional reporting by Barb Darrow