VMware NSX: 3 different use cases

VMware's NSX is one of the most-popular options for network virtualization. Here's how three companies are using it to power their businesses.

Image: iStockphoto/agsandrew

Network virtualization continues to play a key role on the journey to the data center of the future. As concepts such as the software-defined data center (SDDC) and hyperconvergence take hold, they are driven, in part, by network virtualization technology.

While there is a growing throng of network virtualization providers, VMware's NSX continually stands out as one of the most popular options. At the 2015 VMworld conference, the company announced that it had more than 700 NSX customers, with a few of them spending more than $1 million a piece on the product.

SEE: Decoding VMware's mysterious containerization strategy

So, why are these companies turning to NSX? The tech, as a whole, has a few different benefits that customers can glean from it, but each company has its own core reasons for implementing it. Here are three companies who are using NSX to power a key aspect of their business.


Armor provides a multi-tenant, secure virtual private cloud, hosting more than 1,200 customers in its enterprise division. The company began heading toward virtualized networking in 2014 and began testing NSX at that time.

Jeff Schilling, the chief of operations and security at Armor, said they ended up adopting NSX to give a more integrated solution. In order to provide their high-security cloud, they need a truly segmented Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 database schema. They were able to achieve that before, using a non-VMware virtual private firewall, but it didn't integrate well, and they couldn't write APIs to it. So, customers couldn't move their VMs around as easily.

NSX gave them the better tools for APIs, and it also gave them the ability to maintain and transfer key settings for customers.

"We have over 1,200 customers with tens of thousands of VMs. We get to move all those firewall settings that we learned over the last five years from our customers--all those custom firewall settings--will migrate over to NSX to give us a second layer of segmentation within that software-defined data center," Schilling said.

Moving forward, they're developing their own ability to detect changes in memory on customer VMs, which will allow them to determine potential threats quicker, Schilling said. And, the NSX framework allows them to remediate that VM a lot easier.

Baystate Health

Before Baystate Health adopted NSX, they had 1,200-1,400 servers already virtualized. So, virtualization was nothing new to them. However, the issue was the lack of hyperconvergence.

Mike Feld, the interim CTO at Baystate Health, said that there's more demanded of IT in healthcare, but less money going into it because of shrinking budgets. Traditionally, all the data center pieces are independent and their infrastructure is older.

"We needed to make a complete change," Feld said. "We couldn't just tweak a particular vendor, or replace vendor A with vendor B. We needed to completely redo the way we do IT, and hyperconvergence [was] essential."

And, the key component to that hyperconverge strategy was NSX. Feld said they looked at products from Microsoft, Cisco, and OpenStack, but they didn't have the deep level integration at the abstraction level, which is why they chose NSX.

For those attempting this, Feld had a couple pieces of advice. The first was to make sure the versions of everything work together. Make sure to track the details of firmware and drivers, so that you don't end up with something not working. Also, be sure to double-check your interconnectivity.

"They have to make sure that their interconnectivity between the locations that they're running this in must be as fast and as bulletproof as possible," Feld said. "If not, problems there will tend to percolate."

Baystate did encounter some challenges, though. One of their plans is to integrate public cloud architecture into their private cloud system. The mediation between workload, storage, and networking rules with these public cloud providers is proving to be a challenge and requires more work than they anticipated, Feld said.


IlliniCloud is a district-owned cloud co-op that operates across Illinois and six other states. They provide cloud services for state entities, K-12 schools, and area colleges. They used NSX across three data centers to help with edge services like load balancing and firewall, but also for private, secure inter-data center communication.

Jason Radford, a cloud architect of IlliniCloud, said the company uses Arista gear at the core of each data center and they have a VXLAN transport across the data centers through a private link. This is facilitated a stretched distributed logical router (DLR) provided by NSX.

Previously, they had a lot of hardware, and Radford said that NSX has helped them to run much leaner.

"One of the things that we realized was that it wasn't really cost-sustainable or feasible for us to maintain that hardware race," Radford said.

Additionally, Radford said, NSX provides a layer of flexibility and agility when to comes to segmentation. Being that IlliniCloud deals with data--often the data of minors--segmentation is a clear need.

For those looking to adopt NSX, Radford said that new users often start off with a huge buffet of potential features in front of them, and it is easy to become overwhelmed. Start slow, approach it with a defined goal, and build incrementally.

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