Interview: How New Startup Nicira Could Change the Future of Networking

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Cloud computing is a topic that we've heard more and more about in recent years. The concept is truly incredible and has given businesses much more flexibility as well as a means for saving money.

Up to this point, memory, storage, and CPU have all been virtualized. However, the network has not been virtualized until now. Nicira, currently one of the most talked about startups, officially launched earlier this month, and it prides itself with providing this unique element. The platform is built on OpenFlow technology, which is a standard method of communicating to switches.

Martin Casado, Co-founder and CTO of Nicira "We're decoupling applications from the network, much like applications have been decoupled from the server," said Nicira Co-founder and CTO Martin Casado.

As Casado explained to us, compute virtualization provides many benefits from a server perspective. From the perspective of a data center, on the other hand, a lot of those benefits are lost since the applications are still coupled to the network. As a result, there are many limitations.

Nicira says it eliminates these issues with its Network Virtualization Platform (NVP).

"We allow the benefits of virtualization to be able to extend to the data center," said Casado.

The software develops virtual networks in cloud data centers. Communication is normally disrupted when workloads are transferred between data centers, but, according to Casado, Nicira creates an environment that recognizes everything as virtual. For this reason, the transfer of workloads is seamless.

"It doesn't know that the world has changed, and therefore, all of the communication goes undisrupted," he said.

How does Nicira's platform compare to physical network innovations? Let us know.

In a recent interview, Nicira's CEO Stephen Mullaney was quoted with saying the software platform is "the missing piece of cloud computing." Casado agrees and explained that, without network virtualization, cloud computing as a whole is underutilized.

"To really take advantage of compute virtualization and to really gain the benefits of the cloud, you need to virtualize every aspect of infrastructure in the data center," he said. "The one that has really been the long pole has been the network, and that's the piece that we've tackled."

Despite some reports that suggest Nicira could have a negative impact on networking giants such as Cisco, Juniper, and HP, Casado told us that Nicira's platform would not replace or change these players. Instead, he said it would "augment" or "supplement" them.

"We don't change physical networks, [and] we don't change any of the gear," he pointed out. "We add a new layer, which uses this in a way that's more flexible."

"In the future, you will have both the virtual networking layer, which will be provided by companies like Nicira, and you will still have the physical ones provided by the traditional vendors," Casado added.

Nicira already has an impressive client list that includes eBay, AT&T, and Rackspace, among others. These companies are finding that, with Nicira, service delivery has gone from weeks to minutes. In addition, they are saving millions of dollars.

Although there are some questions being raised about the platform, Casado told us that there are many different approaches to solving this issue and that numerous methods are necessary to do it correctly. He also indicated that Nicira would be virtualizing more services in the next couple of months.

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