VMware Takes High Road As Virtual Networking Battle With Cisco Heats Up


Longtime partners VMware and Cisco are becoming rivals in software-defined networking, and it's already clear the vendors are handling the competitive tensions in very different ways.

Cisco, at its launch event for its Insieme Networks software-defined networking "spin-"in" Wednesday, listed VMware as one of 20 supporting vendors for its new Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) technology. Cisco also talked, in general terms, about how VMware's server virtualization and cloud management capabilities will help Insieme customers.

Cisco has had a much different reaction to VMware's competing NSX technology. Not only was Cisco absent from the list of NSX-supporting vendors VMware showed at its VMworld conference in August, the company also told Network World last month that it's not planning any "deep integration" with NSX and its own switches because there isn't enough demand for it.

[Related: Partners See Widening Cisco-VMware Rift]

In this case, Cisco asked VMware to be listed as a supporting vendor for ACI, and VMware agreed because it was right thing to do for customers, Chris King, vice president of product marketing for networking, said in an interview.

"Customers need to see that we are working together so they feel confident in the investments they've made in each company's solutions," King told CRN.

Cisco executives haven't been as magnanimous toward VMware NSX. In a blog post after the NSX unveiling, Cisco Chief Technology and Strategy Officer Padmasree Warrior slammed NSX's lack of support for multiple-hypervisor environments and its lack of visibility into physical and virtual infrastructure.

"I think they felt a bit defensive when we came out with NSX," VMware's King told CRN.

At the Insieme launch event, Rob Lloyd, Cisco's president of development and sales, reiterated the point about NSX lacking multi-hypervisor support. However, one source familiar with VMware NSX told CRN these claims aren't accurate. Cisco couldn't be reached for comment.

VMware and Cisco have differing views on whether SDN will be a pure software play or a software solution with hardware that leverages Cisco's custom-built ASICs chips. Despite their philosophical differences, VMware's King believes there will be opportunities for the vendors to work together.

VMware is joining the Cisco ACI ecosystem as a show of faith to joint customers that might not like the idea of the two companies charting divergent courses in SDN. But that's exactly what's happening, one partner that works with both vendors told CRN.

"The two are going down different paths, and we'll see who makes a better mousetrap," said the source, who requested anonymity to protect his relationships with the vendors. "At the end of the day, there is room for both, but I believe VMware is going to have a long haul to get into the networking space."

It's not clear at this stage what role VMware will be playing in the Insieme ecosystem, but King told CRN there are "probably" opportunities for VMware and Cisco to work together.

Cisco is using VMware's vSphere server virtualization technology, and King said there may be additional management and operation tie-ins with vCloud Automation Center.

Cisco's Nexus 9000 switches come with Broadcom's Trident chipset as well as custom-built Cisco ASIC chips, and that could be another area of opportunity for VMware, King said.

The Broadcom Trident chips support a technology called VXLAN Tunnel End Point (VTEP), which vendors can integrate with networking equipment with a "fairly trivial amount of development work," said King. VTEP enables NSX to reach through those top-of-rack switches into physical workloads, he said.

PUBLISHED NOV. 7, 2013