Nicira was founded in 2007 and has raised $50 million from investors Andreessen Horowitz, Lightspeed Venture Partners, NEA, and industry luminaries Diane Greene and Andy Rachleff. Greene is the co-founder of VMware and Rachleff is a founder of Benchmark Capital.
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Nicira's business proposition is to virtualize the data center network -- as opposed to servers, like VMware and other hypervisors -- so the network can become agile and portable to accommodate the mobility of virtual machines and workloads within and between data centers.
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In essence, Nicira wants to do for the network what VMware did for servers: employ the same VM operational model so network segments can be moved around without disruption or manual intervention. Nicira officials say this will remove the last remaining bottleneck to dynamic, on-demand cloud computing -- networks that are complex, vertically integrated, fragile and costly.
"The network is the barrier to the cloud," says Martin Casado, Nicira co-founder and CTO. "Network configuration is difficult" when VMs are mobile or when provisioning service to a new tenant. "It takes seven days to set up a network for a new application."
With virtualization, it should only take 30 seconds to prepare the network for a new application, Casado says. That's the goal of Nicira's Network Virtualization Platform (NVP), software that resides on virtual switches in servers in the data center. NVP reproduces every characteristic of the physical data center network -- such as security and QoS policies, Layer 2 reachability, and higher-level service capabilities such as stateful firewalling -- and includes APIs to hypervisors and orchestration tools to coordinate operation with the virtual world.
It also includes an OpenFlow API to the data center switch to be able to program them and separate control from the physical infrastructure. The API to the orchestration tools is the Quantum API in the OpenStack specification for open source-based cloud computing, which Nicira helped define.