With New NSX Hires, VMware Guns for Champions League

Network Virtualization

If there was ever any doubt that VMware was taking SDN seriously—I mean, the $1.26B acquisition of the startup Nicira was just a tax write-off—you just have to look at the galácticos they are hiring: it looks like a team to challenge Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.

VMware has just hired in Guido Appenzeller from Big Switch and Dom Delfino from Cisco, on top of already having Martin Casado. This is akin to a Champions League team with Franck Ribery having just bought Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

First, a bit of background to put these hires into perspective. Martin Casado effectively invented the concept of SDN when, whilst at Stanford, he developed the concept of separating the control plane from the hardware and moving both functions into a software stack. VMware got him with the Nicira acquisition and has promoted him from current CTO of the Networks Division to general manager of networking, in charge of the NSX platform.

These latest hires are probably more spectacular. Guido Appenzeller is coming in as group CTO, taking over from Casado. In March of this year, he left Big Switch Networks, the start-up he co-founded to drive SDN, and there was major speculation as to where he would surface again. Make no bones about it: this is a major coup. It is also impressive that he continued Casado’s work on OpenFlow, driving it to the next level. These two people are the yin and yang of the SDN space, and I expect good things to come from this move. Both are hardcore engineers at heart, with very good business brains on them, too.

The second hire is also spectacular. Dom Delfino was previously the head of Cicso’s sales engineers, with responsibility for the Nexus 9000, which drove Cisco’s ACI product set or, more importantly, its SDN offering.

To me, the second hire is the more impressive one, as it shouts that Cisco is just not getting the new paradigm or giving it the focus it deserves. VMware’s marketing team is in overdrive with NSX. The @VMwareNSX Twitter account is often active, albeit at the time of writing the team has not tweeted anything for three days. I will let them off the hook, as I am writing this Monday morning. The official Cisco Twitter account, @CiscoACI, has not tweeted anything in more than one hundred days. I regularly receive information from VMware regarding NSX. There have been several high-profile releases and updates to NSX in the last six months, each adding a number of important new features. Cisco has been decidedly quiet in this space. There may have been ACI updates, but I have not seen the memo.

This may not be a scientific approach, but it does seem to show that for VMware, NSX is front and center, while for Cisco, SDN is on the back burner. I know that John Chambers has talked up a massive fight in this space, but so far the only team on the field is VMware. Perhaps the reason VMware has managed to poach Delfino from its biggest competitor in the SDN marketplace is simply pure Cisco apathy.

That said, NSX and ACI are not currently broad-adoption technologies. The numbers on the bottom of any PO regarding these technologies can be eye-watering. It will be interesting to see if these hires change the status quo from pitching at the top 10K companies in the world—arguably the only ones that can afford this technology at a cost of nearly $6K a processor or $34 per VM per month (admittedly, these costs would be heavily discounted for volume purchase)—to revisiting the pricing and moving it down the food chain, thereby leading the technology into broad adoption just like ESX in the data center: i.e., ubiquitous. If this is the final result of this phase, then perhaps these hires will go from being spectacular to awesome.

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