Ed note: At the end of VMworld 2012 SiliconAngle CEO John Furrier and Wikibon Networking Analyst Stuart Miniman had an exclusive interview with Nicira Co-Founder and CTO Martin Casado in the SiliconAngle Cube. A pioneer in developing the key technologies in virtual networking, Casado is a visionary who seldom sits for interviews. In this rare event, he talks about the future of virtual networking and the virtual data center, what it means for the careers of IT professionals, Open Source versus Open Standards, the multi-hypervisor data center environment, and how reality is often confused with mis-perception in the media, including social media. In this first of a three-part series, we cover Casado’s vision of the future of IT. The second part will focus on the impact of network transformation on the infrastructure and IT careers.
Martin Casado is a tech supergeek with a clear vision for revolutionizing data networking and, beyond that, the entire data center. This vision has been driving development at virtual networking pioneer Nicira since its founding five years ago, and now, with its acquisition for a spectacular $1.2 billion by VMware, is wedded with that of the data center virtualization leader.
When Casado sat down in the SiliconAngle Cube for a rare public appearance, he promised a revolution in IT operations. “I have been focused on changing networking…. I’ve been doing this now since my PhD at Stanford, going on 10 years now, and this [the VMware acquisition] is the opportunity of a lifetime to actually have a … planet-scale impact.
“I have a very, very firm belief that the access layer of the network is moving from within the network to the edge. We all are familiar with computing virtualization. That is how VMware initially changed the world. The time it takes to provision a workload went from weeks to literally two minutes.”
However, he said, IT operations is focused not on single workloads but on all the resources business applications require, including storage, networking, security, monitoring, and data protection. As a result, VMware so far has only been partly successful in changing data center operations. “It still takes days to do everything else that is required.” That lengthy process is what Casado is attacking, and his vision goes beyond networking to literally virtualizing the entire data center.
The network, however, is the key to realizing this vision, because it touches everything – servers, storage, security and other appliances, public cloud services, and ultimately end-user devices. And it delivers many of the specialized services such as firewall and other security protections. Storage virtualization, he says, is “coming along nicely”, but a virtualized network is absolutely required to tie it all together.
It is for this reason that Nicira’s core team spent three years developing the technology to virtualize the network. The result, he says, is similar in many ways to the impact of VMware and other server hypervisors. Instead of a single very complex physical network that has to handle all loads from batch backups to voice, virtualization allows IT to create a number of simple logical networks on top of the physical infrastructure, each handling a specific set of traffic. This greatly simplifies network provisioning, monitoring, and management.
Ultimately, he says, “The goal is software-defined data centers. Everything’s in software, everything’s dynamic. You create it on demand, it’s dynamic, it’s liquid, like water it will go anywhere.”
The VMware Acquisition
Given that vision, Casado said, the offer from VMware came at the ideal time. After three years of intense technology development, “the last year for us was mostly about execution and customer engagement. We had traction, and we were starting to realize how difficult it is to address a market as large as this. So the acquisition happened at a very natural transition point … where joining a much larger company can provide us with more resources.”
And while, as Furrier, a successful entrepreneur who has started several companies over his career, pointed out, the money was amazing, Casado said Nicira chose VMware as its new parent, mostly for its position in the industry and similarity of vision in terms of revolutionizing IT.
“You can look at VMware as one of the largest networking companies in the world, based on port count,” he said. “So this is the opportunity of a lifetime to change an industry.”
Wikibon agrees. In his initial analysis of the Nicira acquisition, Miniman writes, “VMware buying Nicira will redraw the lines of the networking industry.” While Casado’s vision for network transformation is “ready now”, implementing it across the IT industry will take years, and Nicira faces significant challenges and competitors.
Nicira fits nicely into VMware’s vision of the Software-Defined Data Center. VMware brings a channel into most of the early adaptor large enterprise data centers, who are already using VMware, as well as the support network and financial and technical resources to allow Nicira to reach that large and fast-growing market quickly rather than one company at a time. And as VMware expands its technical reach to the entire enterprise to fulfill that mutual vision of virtualized data centers, Nicira will play a central role.