What is VMware NSX?

VMware NSX is the network virtualization and security platform that emerged from VMware after they acquired Nicira in 2012. This acquisition launched VMware into the software-defined networking (SDN)  and network functions virtualization (NFV) world.

The solution de-couples the network functions from the physical devices, in a way that is analogous to de-coupling virtual servers (VMs) from physical servers. In order to de-couple the new virtual network from the traditional physical network, NSX natively re-creates the traditional network constructs in virtual space — these constructs include ports, switches, routers, firewalls, etc.

In the past, everyone knew what these things were. It was possible to see and touch the switch port that a server connects to, but now, this isn’t possible. Fundamentally, these constructs still exist with VMware NSX, but it is no longer possible to touch them. It is this reason, the virtual network is sometimes harder to conceptualize.

There are two different product editions of NSX: NSX for vSphere and NSX for Multi-Hypervisor (MH). It’s speculated they will merge down the road, but for many possible, or soon to be, users of NSX, it doesn’t matter, because they are used to support different use cases. NSX for vSphere is ideal for VMware environments, while NSX for MH is designed to integrate into cloud environments that leverage open standards, such as OpenStack.

VMware NSX for vSphere

The most talked about and documented version of VMware NSX is purpose built for vSphere environments, otherwise referred to as NSX for vSphere. NSX for vSphere will be deployed 90% of the time, as it has native integration to other VMware platforms, such as vCenter and vCloud for Automation Center (vCAC). NSX for vSphere offers logical switching, in-kernel routing, in-kernel distributed firewalling, and edge-border L4-7 devices that offer VPN, load balancing, dynamic routing, and FW capabilities.

It is the culmination of the original networking solution from VMware, vCloud Networking and Security (vCNS), and the Network Virtualization Platform (NVP) from Nicira. In addition, NSX acts as a platform and integrates with third parties, such as Palo Alto Networks and F5.

VMware NSX API Manager

The second edition of VMware NSX is the next-generation NVP product that initially emerged out of Nicira. NSX for MV has no native integration with vCenter because it was purpose-built from the ground up to support any cloud environments, such as OpenStack and CloudStack. As an example, NSX for MH offers native integration into OpenStack, by supporting the OpenStack Neutron APIs. This means OpenStack could be deployed as the cloud management platform (CMP), but NSX will take responsibility for creating and configuring logical ports, logical switches, logical routers, security groups, and other networking services.

While there isn’t native integration with vCenter, it does still, in fact, support vSphere, KVM, and XEN hypervisors, though it contains less features than NSX for vSphere, from a networking perspective. There isn’t so-called native integration because a user would not be configuring NSX-MH through a GUI. It’s meant to be API-driven from a cloud platform.


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