Technologies3 min read

The History of NSX and the Future of Network Virtualization

VMware Staff
Dive into the history of NSX from network virtualization technology to the virtual cloud network today.

There’s been a lot written recently about VMware NSX, but a lot less about its history. The roots go deep into two parallel R&D projects. One of those projects was the central business of VMware; the other was the focus of Nicira, the company that helped originate the concept of software-defined networking in the mid-2000s. When these two projects came together with VMware’s acquisition of Nicira in 2012, NSX would soon be the result. Let's dive into the history of NSX and, in parallel, the evolution of network virtualization.

Two Trains. Parallel Tracks.

In 2002, with the introduction of the first virtual switch (vSwitch) to the ESX hypervisor, VMware laid the groundwork for the future of network virtualization. Over the course of the next 12 years, VMware continued to develop virtualization technologies to the great benefit of businesses and organizations everywhere. VMware’s goal was the realization of a complete data center virtualization platform. By 2012, VMware had laid out its vision of the software-defined data center (SDDC) and was well down a path to realizing that vision.

Meanwhile, Nicira Networks—formed in 2007 as the result of research that started at Stanford University—was also pioneering the concept of software-defined networking to create a network virtualization platform. As Bruce Davie, VMware’s CTO of networking explains, “If you trace NSX back to its roots, five years before VMware acquired Nicira, NVP—Nicira’s network virtualization platform—was basically the precursor of NSX.”

One Company. One Team. One Solution.

In 2012, VMware acquired Nicira and integrated its R&D teams. One year later, VMware launched the first NSX product. “It was,” says Davie, “the logical extension of the two companies’ prior products. The two teams complemented each other extremely well.” And just three years later, NSX has gone from first customers to mainstream adoption as one of the fastest-growing software products in technology history.

Bringing Cloud-Like Services to Enterprise Networking

NSX brings a number of unique advantages to customers, chief among them its security features, such as micro-segmentation, which are almost impossible for competing products to replicate. While Davie points out that a perimeter defense “can work 99.9 percent of the time, a hacker only needs to get in once. And once in,” Davie continues, “the typical hacker spends, on average, 200 days inside the data center.” Only NSX with micro-segmentation offers the technology to contain and control attacks, and to provide unprecedented visibility to target “east-west lateral movement” inside your data center to eliminate the threat.

NSX automation also dramatically accelerates service delivery and application provisioning. NSX reduces the time it takes to provision apps from months or weeks to minutes. It’s a benefit that automatically improves the agility of customer networks.

NSX’s placement so close to the application also uniquely positions it to be the networking and security architecture for the cloud. It allows businesses to extend their workloads to public clouds without losing, as Davie points out, “the same level of security and control they have over their own data center or private cloud.” Enterprise customers want the same ability to deliver services and deploy any app that only mega-scale data center operators like Google supply. “What’s unique about NSX,” adds Davie, “is that we’re making that same capability, similar to what mega-scale companies provide, available to everybody. In some respects, we’re delivering the mega-scale data center experience to the enterprise.”

The Next Evolution in the History of NSX: Virtual Cloud Networking

In early 2018, VMware announced what it believes is the next evolution of the networking industry: virtual cloud networking.

The Virtual Cloud Network is VMware’s vision for the future of networking to empower customers to connect and secure applications and data, regardless of where they sit—from edge to edge. Virtual cloud networking is the category of next-generation networking service consumption technology. This new evolution of networking infrastructure is increasingly being adopted across IT to provide the digital fabric that helps unify a hyper-distributed world. It is an architectural approach built-in software at a global scale from edge-to-edge to deliver consistent, pervasive connectivity and security for apps and data wherever they reside, independent of underlying physical infrastructure.

NSX is at the foundation of the VMware Virtual Cloud Network. The Virtual Cloud Network offers customers end-to-end consistency from the data center to branch to the cloud.

  • Cloud Networking Fabric: enables consistent network experience and operations from edge to edge.
  • Security Architected In: provides end-to-end application and data-centric security policies across data centers, clouds, branch, and edge.
  • Delivered In Software: independent of physical infrastructure with IT agility and cale through programmability and automation.

Learn more about virtual cloud networking and VMware's vision for the next era in the history of NSX.