VMware NSX Data Center – A consultant’s view

Steve Wood

Steve Wood is a Senior Consultant at Xtravirt and has 5 years’ experience of working with VMware NSX®.  In this article, he explains what NSX is, highlights how it has evolved and helps clear up the differences between NSX-T and NSX-V.

 VMware NSX isn’t new to the market, where has it come from?

You may all be aware of server virtualisation, it’s been commonplace for a while now, you may also be aware of the term “Software-Defined Data Centre” or SDDC. A true SDDC wouldn’t be a SDDC if all the component parts were not in software. Therefore, there was a need to be able to virtualise the network components.  VMware® addressed this challenge with the launch of NSX-V over 6 years ago.

VMware’s NSX-V platform has proven itself time and time again in the industry over the last 6 years and has been key to VMware’s SDDC model.

So why the need for NSX-T?

Well, in short NSX-T (also known as NSX Data Center) was needed to address the use-cases that NSX-V couldn’t, and I guess from an architecture point of view it didn’t make sense for VMware to re-hash NSX-V to make it address these gaps.

NSX-V is only focussed on vSphere workloads and was tied very closely to vCenter. So, if you are only interested in standing up a SDDC in vSphere then NSX-V is still the right choice today.

NSX-T has been developed to address the use cases NSX-V couldn’t touch, such as being able to be deployed on Kernel-based Virtual Machines (KVM) and supporting Docker and Kubernetes, which is currently a major use case for NSX-T.

What’s changed under the hood?

The major change here is the changeover to GENEVE as the encapsulation protocol rather than VXLAN. GENEVE is the brainchild of VMware, Red Hat, Microsoft and Intel and was grown out of a need to improve the flexibility that VXLAN lacked. GENEVE allows metadata to be inserted as Type-Length-Value (TLV) fields which should allow for a whole host of future use cases.

GENEVE and VXLAN diagram

What are some of the new features available with NSX-T?

Some of the key features for me are:

  • The NSX-T Manager now includes the controller therefore you can deploy 3 NSX Managers/Controllers which are clustered, and the placement of these components are much more flexible than in NSX-V.
  • A single NSX-T Manager can manage multiple vCenters and KVM hosts.
  • NSX-T currently only supports Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), with timers getting as low as 200ms with bare-metal edges which vastly improves availability over NSX-V.
  • NSX-T brings its own virtual switch or N-VDS which replaces the Virtual Distributed Switch (VDS) commonly used with vSphere.
  • OpenStack plugin allows for the ability to build and interact with infrastructure as code.

What are the main use cases for NSX-T?

Generally, the main use cases are in the areas of security, automation, multi-cloud networking and security for cloud native applications:

  • Security – NSX-T enables this through micro-segmentation and the ability to define and enforce security policies at the workload level.
  • Automation – virtualising the network and security functions with NSX-T can enable faster deployments and automation of applications. 
  • Multi-cloud networking – NSX-T can bring consistency across sites and streamline a multi-cloud environment, enabling use cases such as seamless data centre extensions and rapid workload mobility.
  • Cloud native applications – this is a major use case for NSX-T, providing networking and security for containerised applications and microservices.

 Is NSX-T right for me?

At the time of writing this, NSX-T is on version 2.4.1 and since version 2.4 it has levelled the playing field between NSX-V and NSX-T. There are a whole host of pros and cons for each version and a detailed design discussion is a necessity to understand which product best fits today. It’s not always a straightforward decision and is very much dependent on the requirements and use cases it needs to address. Therefore, it’s an interesting and challenging time to be talking to organisations about NSX.

As an independent cloud consulting business, Xtravirt have been designing and delivering cloud and digital transformation solutions for many years. Our expertise of deploying and optimising NSX environments is validated by our achievement of the VMware Master Services Competency for Network Virtualisation.  Our team can work with you to understand which product and features best address your needs both for now and in the future. Our close working relationship with VMware allows us to fully understand both products future direction and roadmap. Contact us to find out more.

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