US startup Nicira came out of 'stealth mode' on Monday, unveiling a virtualisation platform that promises to do for networks what VMware did for servers and computing.
The Palo Alto-based company launched its Network Virtualisation Platform (NVP), a product set that sits at the edge of an IP network and "decouples" network processes from the underlying hardware.
In the same way that server virtualisation recast servers as general capacity that could be provisioned with little fuss, NVP permits the physical network to be thought of as capacity, leaving virtual networks and the processes running on them free to be multiplied or moved anywhere within a data centre or between data centres.
Some comparisons can be drawn between server and network virtualisation, but they are completely different, says one of Nicira's co-founders, Martin Casado whose research led to the creation of OpenFlow and Software-Defined Networking.
While virtualised servers are "self-contained" in that they do not need to deal with different configurations or "states", networks can be configured in a variety of ways. In a virtualised networking environment, inconsistent states introduce the risk of packets being carried along a path and delivered to the wrong location, Casado explains in his personal blog.
Casado said NVP will give service providers the tools to move enterprise applications more quickly to the cloud by allowing them to maintain their existing IP configurations.
NVP has already been deployed at some major cloud operations, including Rackspace, eBay, AT&T and Japanese telco, NTT. Monday's launch signalled the technology is ready to help enterprise address network constraints in private cloud computing programs.
The major benefit Nicira promises is to cut the time it takes to deliver a network, which can be weeks, but also offers the ability to deliver physical network attributes such as Quality of Service (QoS), and tiered services via virtual ports that support Layer 2 to Layer 7 services.
The two key pieces to Nicira's offering include Open vSwitch - switch software that forms the edge of virtualised network devices, and the NVP Controller Cluster, which us used to manage virtualised network components and connections.
“Network virtualisation is the biggest change to networking in 25 years,” claimed Stephen Mullaney, CEO of Nicira.
“NVP provides the final pivotal piece to cloud computing, the most transformational change to IT in a generation. And the largest most forward-thinking cloud providers are laser-focused on operations and economics, the two benefits Nicira delivers.”
The company has also attracted the financial backing of VMware co-founder Diane Green and several well known technology venture capitalists.