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Planned VMware analytics will improve NSX security, performance

The new NSX Intelligence unveiled at VMworld will act as a platform for running future VMware analytics to improve NSX security and performance, a company executive said.

SAN FRANCISCO -- VMware has introduced the first in a series of planned analytic software that will improve network security and bolster application performance on the company's NSX network virtualization overlay for the data center.

This week, at VMworld, VMware unveiled software called NSX Intelligence that customers will eventually use as a platform for adding analytic components to NSX. The initial release of the VMware analytics product includes tools that makes NSX more effective at microsegmentation, the most extensive use case for the networking technology.

Microsegmentation is the process of dividing a virtualized network into portions and running specific groups of applications on each part. Network managers then use software tools to create access policies in firewalls for each group, thereby preventing malware from spreading across a network.

NSX Intelligence provides analytics in conjunction with vRealize Network Insight -- VMware's network and security analysis software. Organizations deploy NSX Intelligence with a virtual machine on a VMware hypervisor.

How NSX Intelligence works

Once deployed, NSX Intelligence discovers all Layer 7 applications and their virtualized network services and shares that information with Network Insight. In return, the latter software exports traffic statistics, such as origin, destination and volume, drawn from network hardware, including switches, routers and firewalls.

NSX Intelligence has a deep packet inspection engine that locates, identifies and classifies application traffic. The engine also analyzes policies set in firewalls that protect groups of applications.

After deploying NSX Intelligence, an engineer would transfer into its policy manager all existing firewall rules for data center applications. After that, the software will alert network operators to applications that lack proper security policies. Operators can choose to let NSX Intelligence correct policy lapses or make the changes themselves.

A simulation model is available for testing the impact of application policies before deploying them in a production environment. If a problem arises following the deployment, then network managers can roll back the changes and return the network to its former state.

The NSX Intelligence roadmap

VMware plans to use NSX Intelligence as a platform for deploying separately priced modules as options. The first will provide security analytics that includes machine learning algorithms for network anomaly detection, said Tom Gillis, the general manager of VMware networking and security.

Later, VMware will offer a network analytics module focused on application performance, Gillis said. The software will provide metrics like network jitter and response time, while also helping with troubleshooting.

Gillis declined to say when VMware would deliver the modules.

VMware will offer NSX Intelligence to companies with an NSX Enterprise plus license, which also includes vRealize Network Insight. VMware plans to make NSX Intelligence generally available by early next month.

NSX Intelligence operates only within virtualized environments in the private data center. VMware plans to extend its capabilities to software running on public clouds in the future.

The new product demonstrates how VMware is using analytics as a selling point to convince customers to adopt its NSX network virtualization technology. Less than 10% of the installed base for VMware's flagship ESX server virtualization platform uses NSX, according to Gartner. The high-cost of NSX is why many companies limit its use.

VMware customer considers NSX

A senior infrastructure engineer, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to talk for his company, said he was attending VMworld to learn more about NSX. The engineer was considering the technology for connecting applications running on the company's data center and the AWS cloud. (The engineer's company develops software human resource departments use to manage programs designed to help improve employee health.)

"The integration of on-prem equipment with AWS is what we're struggling with," he said. "I'm still trying to figure out how [NSX] fits into the model."

Running a test of NSX would answer many of his questions, but, before that can happen, VMware will have to convince the engineer that the ROI is much higher than the technology's cost.

"I'm going to have to go back and sell it," he said. "I have to go back, build a use case for it and then get it into my senior vice president's budget."

Also, at VMworld, VMware introduced NSX Advanced Load Balancer, which the company built from technology obtained through the acquisition of AVI Networks in June. With NSX, VMware now offers AVI's network services, which include load balancing, application acceleration and caching.

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