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Virtual Network Start-Up Gets Backing From VMware Founder

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Nicira officially launches its Network Virtualisation Platform, already in use by AT&T, eBay and Rackspace

Nicira has come out of stealth mode with the official launch of its Network Virtualisation Platform (NVP), the latest effort in the the trend toward network virtualisation.

The company, a start-up founded in 2007, said on Monday that its NVP software began shipping in July of last year and is currently being used by customers such as AT&T, eBay, Fidelity Investments, NTT and Rackspace to speed up the provisioning of services and to improve the utilisation of resources in the data centre.

Virtualised data centres

NVP is a software-based system that aims to do for the network what virtualisation technologies have already done for servers – namely, decoupling workloads from physical hardware to make them more portable. The limitations currently restricting workload portability also lead to under-utilisation of server infrastructure, leaving as much as 20 to 30 percent of a data centre’s server capacity underused and driving up networking costs significantly, Nicira said.

The company estimates that NVP can recover $20 million (£13m) to $37 million (£23.5m) in capital and operational costs for a large data centre of 40,000 services and 1 million virtual machines. To date Nicira has raised $50 million (£31.7m)  in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Lightspeed Venture Partners and New Enterprise Associates, and individual investors including VMware co-founder Diane Greene and Benchmark Capital co-founder Andy Rachleff.

Nicira chief executive Stephen Mullaney said the trend towards network virtualisation represented by NVP is the biggest change to networking in 25 years.

“NVP provides the final pivotal piece to cloud computing, the most transformational change to IT in a generation,” he said in a statement. “And the largest most forward-thinking cloud providers are laser-focused on operations and economics, the two benefits Nicira delivers.”

Network edge

NVP is implemented at the edge of the network and is managed by a distributed, clustered controller architecture. It forms a thin software layer that treats the physical network as an IP backplane, allowing the creation of virtual networks that have the same properties and services as physical networks, such as security and quality-of-service policies, L2 reachability and higher-level service capabilities such as stateful firewalling.

Virtual networks can be created dynamically to support virtual machine mobility anywhere within or between data centres without address changes or service disruption and it is compatible with any data centre network hardware and can be deployed without disruption on any existing network. Nicra said that NVP is delivered through a usage-based monthly subscription model, scaling based on the number of virtual network ports used, with customers paying only for what they use.

One of Nicira’s founders is Martin Casado, whose work at Stanford contributed to the creation of the OpenFlow protocol and Software-Defined Networking (SDN), a network architecture that decouples the network control plane from the physical networking infrastructure. Both SDN and OpenFlow are being used by other network virtualisation start-ups, including Embrane, Contextream and Big Switch Networks. Cisco has said it will add OpenFlow to its Nexus switches. Other co-founders include network researchers Nick McKeown of Stanford University and Scott Shenker from the University of California at Berkeley.