The Godfather of NSX Leaves His Baby in Good Hands to Help Other Embryos

Network Virtualization
Casado’s Baby NSX

In a shock announcement on Wednesday, Martin Casado announced that he was leaving VMware’s Networking and Security business unit, the group that owns the NSX product, to join the venture capitalist firm Andreessen Horowitz as a general partner. Casado was co-founder and CTO of Nicira, the network company that VMware brought for $1.2 billion in 2012.

This closes the circle for Martin, whose first institutional investor at Nicira was Andreessen Horowitz. Ben Horowitz of the company served on Nicira’s board and acted as Casado’s business mentor.

Will Casado make a good venture capitalist? That remains to be seen, but I think he has a very good grounding and understands the culture of Andreessen Horowitz. The firm tends to like partners who have walked the walk, in terms of living the startup life. This, coupled with the firm’s history with Casado, makes it a good fit.

In fact that Casado did not jump ship when VMware purchased Nicira and became the general manager of VMware’s Networking and Security business unit has filled out his business credentials, especially after taking the unit from a standing start to a $600M run rate.

However, what about the VMware business unit that is now leaderless? Well, VMware has already appointed Casado’s successor, Dr. Rajiv Ramaswami, as general manager and executive vice president. Ramaswami has some serious networking chops. He joins from Broadcom, where he was the executive vice president and general manager of the Infrastructure & Networking group. Prior to that, he served as the president and general manager of Cisco’s Cloud Services and Switching Technology group. The fact that VMware has appointed from outside indicates how pivotal to its ongoing success the NSX division is, what with the hypervisor quickly becoming a nonentity and vSphere revenues flattening out in a saturated market.

How will this affect Nicira/NSX’s position in the company in general? Will this mean that they will finally be brought completely into the fold? Will the employees now be paid with a VMware check rather than a Nicira one? Will there be a realignment of reporting structures? One would hope so, if only for the clarity that would bring. Currently, the NSX group is a company within a company. I would think that this anomaly would need to be aligned before the Dell/EMC deal is completed.

NSX coupled with VSAN is the big hope of the company. However, for NSX to be truly successful, it needs to revisit its decision to deprecate the multihypervisor version. Also, it needs to revisit the decision to only be virtual based. For NSX to be truly successful, it needs to be able to talk end-to-end to more than VMware-based services. Bubbles of NSX surrounding virtual islands are good, but every time traffic moves from a virtual environment to a physical environment, traffic has to pass through a gateway device and enter legacy networking until the traffic reaches its destination in the physical world.

I would like to see NSX in the NIC cards for physical boxes. That is unlikely to happen, but it would be good to see it at the access switch layer natively. Currently, solutions such as those offered by Arista EOS allow VXLAN integration with NSX, but not true NSX end-to-end. It is the same situation with Cumulus Linux and Juniper and Brocade.

This is why the appointment of Ramaswami is so interesting. He brings broad networking chops to the group, which he gathered at Broadcom and Cisco. This means he will understand both SDN and the physical legacy networking world intimately. I hope that when he starts on April 1, he brings his technical mind as well as his business mind. The NSX group will need firm direction and guidance both from a business standpoint and a technical position. The continuity that having Casado at the helm these last four years brought to the group was invaluable to VMware. It was the unique position that Martin Casado held. He was a leader from both a business perspective and a technical view. Martin has done good work at VMware. Now, Ramaswami must finish it and make NSX a $1 billion business group. At the same time, changes need to be made, both from a technical viewpoint and from a corporate position, to make that dream a reality.

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