"This will be the biggest transformation in networking in 25 years," says Nicira CEO Steve Mullaney.
But the impact of SDNs on the network hardware industry, of which Cisco is the dominant vendor, will not be felt for another couple of years, Mullaney says. Eventually, network intelligence will be sucked out of the hardware and housed in controllers at the edge of the network, acting as the brains of a "cheap" Layer 3 IP switching fabric, he says.
Cisco is preparing for the emergence of OpenFlow and SDNs. The company has stated plans to add OpenFlow to its Nexus switches, but beyond that, its plans for either embracing or combatting the SDN trend are unclear.
NVP and SDNs treat the physical network as an IP backplane. This allows the dynamic creation of virtual networks that support VM mobility within or between data centers without service disruption or address changes, Nicira says.
Legacy approaches -- the domain of Cisco -- can leave as much as 20 percent to 30 percent of the server capacity in data centers underutilized and drive up networking costs several-fold, Nicira says. The company claims NVP can recover $20 million to $37 million in capital and operational costs for a large data center of 40,000 services and 1 million VMs.
Nicira, however, has not yet calculated the economics of NVP on a network.
NVP is compatible with any data center network hardware, the company says, and can be deployed non-disruptively on any existing network. It also allows for future changes to the network hardware without disruption to the operations of the virtual network, Nicira says.
NVP shipped in July and is in use at AT&T, eBay, Fidelity Investments, NTT and Rackspace. It is priced through a usage-based, monthly subscription model, which scales per virtual network port.
In addition to Casado, Nicira was founded by networking research leaders Nick McKeown from Stanford University and Scott Shenker from the University of California at Berkeley.
Nicira joins recent SDN entrants Embrane and Contextream. Embrane is focused on Layer 4-7 virtualization for enterprises and service providers, while Contextream is focused on the Layer 4-7 challenges of cloud and managed hosting providers.
"The introduction of another network virtualization product is further validation that the network is in dire need of increased agility and programmability to support the emergence of a more dynamic data center and the cloud," says Embrane co-founder and President Dante Malagrinò. "Traditional networking vendors aren't delivering this, which is why companies like Nicira and Embrane are so attractive to service providers and enterprises. Embrane's network services platform can be implemented within the re-architected approach proposed by Nicira, or in traditional network architectures. At the same time, products that address Layer 2-3 and platforms that address Layer 4-7 are not interchangeable and it's important for the industry to understand the differences as the network catches up to the cloud."
Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.