One of the most talked about startups in Silicon Valley has opened for business today: Nicira.
The company is formally launching its software, the Network Virtualization Platform (NVP), and announcing a set of impressive early customers: AT&T, NTT, Rackspace, Fidelty Investments and eBay.
Although Nicira (pronounced nis-era) has been in stealth mode for months, it’s been the object of massive speculation and several leaks.
Last year it racked up $50M in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and NEA, as well as VMware founder Diane Greene and Andy Rachleff, a former general partner at Benchmark Capital.
And it has actually been shipping its software since July of last year, CEO Steve Mullaney told Business Insider.
The company hopes to do for the network what VMware did for servers, saving big companies tens of millions of dollars in the process.
Virtualization software like VMware’s allows many software operating systems to share the same physical server while each thinks they’ve got the server all to themselves. It puts a layer of software between the server and the operating system to trick it that way.
Nicira does something similar for network routers and switches. While it has become very easy to move applications around from one physical server to another — because the software is contained in its virtual server — it is harder to move many workloads between data centres. Each workload is tied to a set of network gear set up in specific ways, says chief technology officer Martin Casado.
Photo: Nicira. Used by permission.
Nicira’s NVP addresses that. It places software at the edge of each end of the network and it makes servers think that they’ve got their favourite network settings.Because Nicira lets companies pack more usage onto their existing networks, it can save a large enterprise millions, the company says. Nicira calculates it will save a large cloud-like data centre, with 40,000 servers and 80,000 10 gigabyte network ports, more than $30 million because they will need fewer servers.
The technology behind Nicira is called OpenFlow. Casado developed it as part of his PhD at Stanford, and his two Stanford advisors, Nick McKeown and Scott Shenker, are his co-founders.
Nicira has also lined up long-time network industry veteran Steve Mullaney as CEO, and ex-Cisco top sales guy Alan Cohen. (It recently snatched Cisco Fellow Bruce Davie from Cisco, too.)
“All of the hard stuff, the things networking hasn’t gotten right for 20 years, we pull that into software and we manage that with OpenFlow,” explained Casado.
Nicira isn’t the only OpenFlow startup on the block. Big Switch Networks also offers a network virtualization product that uses OpenFlow.
In the meantime, the giant network vendors like Cisco, Juniper, and HP may not be pleased. OpenFlow doesn’t eliminate the need for their gear. But these companies — particularly Cisco — have been adding features, which they call “intelligence,” into their network gear to justify premium prices. They won’t want that stuff moved into someone’s else software product, leaving their gear to compete on price alone.
OpenFlow doesn’t need to be used in the network gear from these companies for the Nicira product to work, however all the big network vendors have promised to add it to at least some of their gear.
What that really means is that these vendors are becoming proactive and familiar with OpenFlow and the concept of network virtualization.
Because Nicira has opened its doors with big customers, it has a strong position in what is sure to become a giant market. But unlike VMware, it’s not leaving the starting gate all alone.
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