Why’s the Nexus 1000V the only third-party distributed virtual switch?

Nearly three years after its debut, the Cisco Nexus 1000V is still the only third-party distributed virtual switch for VMware.

The virtual switch options for VMware administrators are fairly limited.

VMware's standard vSwitch can be difficult to manage in larger infrastructures, because you have to configure and manage each vSwitch individually. In response, the company introduced the Distributed vSwitch with vSphere, which offers centralized management and other advanced features. VMware and Cisco Systems Inc. also developed the first third-party distributed virtual switch, the Cisco Nexus 1000V.

It's been almost three years since the release of the Cisco Nexus 1000V, and it is still the only third-party virtual switch for vSphere. There are a great many third-party products for every other area of vSphere, but if VMware's virtual switches do not provide the integration and features that an organization needs, the Nexus 1000V is the only option.

It's not that the Cisco Nexus 1000V is a bad product. It provides better security and integration with physical networks and offers many advanced features traditionally found in physical switches, including port security, IP source guard and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol snooping.

But it would be nice to have some Nexus 1000V competition as well. Organizations whose networking equipment all comes from Hewlett-Packard or Juniper Networks probably don't want to mix Cisco products into their data centers for support reasons, for example.

Why is there no Cisco Nexus 1000V competition?

If VMware's distributed virtual switch architecture is truly open to third-party vendors, why hasn't a single vendor besides Cisco stepped forward to make its own product?

I've heard comments from Cisco people that there's nothing stopping other vendors from making their own distributed virtual switches, but I don't believe it. Some vendors sell converged infrastructures. Virtualization is a big part of it, and advanced virtual switches provide a great benefit. If HP, for example, could build its own distributed virtual switches for its converged infrastructure products, the company would have by now.

Fact is, during the development of the Nexus 1000V, VMware had to make changes to vSphere to accommodate Cisco's technology. So Cisco couldn't have built a distributed virtual switch on its own. It needed VMware's help to integrate the Nexus 1000V with vSphere. So do Cisco and VMware have an exclusive distributed virtual switch deal, like Apple Inc. and AT&T Inc. did for the iPhone? Or does VMware feel there isn't a need for other virtual switches?

Guy Brunsdon, a member of VMware's networking group, has indicated that VMware isn't interested in other companies developing distributed virtual switches. On a 2010 episode of the VMTN Communities Roundtable podcast, Brunsdon said it's not worth VMware's time to work with other vendors, because Cisco owns 70% of the market. So other vendors are essentially being shut out of developing a critical virtual-networking component because their market share isn't as big as Cisco's.

I wanted a different perspective from someone not affiliated with Cisco or VMware, so I brought it up with an HP representative during a networking presentation at a recent Tech Field Day event. (Watch the second HP video at the 31-minute mark.) I asked the HP representative why Cisco has a monopoly on the distributed virtual switch and why there isn't an HP-branded virtual switch.

He said he couldn't talk about it, but he gave a partial answer: HP is waiting for standards-based implementations of the same type of technology, which are designed to replace the Nexus 1000V. And HP will fully embrace those standards when they are released, he said.

The future of the distributed virtual switch

It sounds like HP is waiting for the API that VMware promised years ago, which will allow any vendor to easily integrate products with the networking layer -- or, more specifically, the vSwitch -- in vSphere. The VMsafe APIs allow this integration to some degree, but they focus more on the security aspects of virtual networking.

Presumably, Cisco's monopoly on the distributed virtual switch will end at some point, when other vendors begin using a VMware API to develop their own virtual network products for vSphere. And these solutions will provide better integration with physical networking products.

Hopefully VMware will deliver an API soon, so other companies can develop distributed vSwitches. Then customers can choose the virtual networking components that will work best in their virtual infrastructures.

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