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Ron Flax is the Vice President of August Schell, a reseller of VMware products and IT services company that specializes in delivering services to commercial accounts and the federal government, particularly intelligence and U.S. Department of Defense. RonFlaxRon is a VCDX-NV certified network virtualization professional and a VMware vExpert. We spoke with Ron about network virtualization and the NSX career path.

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The most exciting thing about network virtualization, I think, is the transformative nature of this technology. Networks have been built the same way for the last 20 to 25 years. Nothing has really changed. A lot of new features have been built, a lot of different technologies have come around networks, but the fundamental nature of how networks are built has not changed. But VMware NSX, because it’s a software-based product, has completely altered everything. It enables a much more agile approach to networks: the ability to automate the stand-up and tear-down of networks; the ability to produce firewalling literally at the virtual network interface. And because things are done at software speed, you can now make changes to the features and functions of networking products at software speed. You no longer have to deal with silicon speed. It’s very, very exciting. With a software-based approach, you can just do so much more in such a small amount of time.

What we’re hearing from customers, at this point, is that they’re very interested to learn more. They’re at a phase where they’re ready to get their hands dirty, and they really want to understand it better. What’s driving a lot of adoption today is security, it is our foot in the door. When you speak with customers about the security aspects, the micro-segmentation capabilities, you may not even have to get to a virtual network discussion. Once you get the security aspect deployed, customers will see it in action and then a few weeks later will say, ‘Hey, you know, can you show me how the new router works?’ or ‘Can you show me how other features of NSX work?’ That’s when you can start to broaden your approach. So these compelling security stories like micro-segmentation or distributed firewalling get you in and get the deployment started, but ultimately it’s the flexibility of being able to deliver networks at speed, in an agile way, through software, through automation, that’s the home run.

I also think clients are excited about being able to deliver services more quickly to their business units. In the space I work in, the U.S. Federal Government, the workforce is typically segmented into a server team, storage team, network team, maybe a virtualization team. They haven’t gotten yet to the point where they have a cloud team, so it’s all kind of meshed together. What tends to happen in these siloed environments is the business, or the end user, is waiting on one of these factions to get their job done before they can deliver services. In a lot of cases it’s become the network team that acts as the long pole in the tent and gets things organized for getting a solution built. If they are the log jam, well…

With network virtualization it’s possible—it’s quite easy, in fact—to bring that capability to the virtualization guy, the server guy, the storage guy, or even the end user if you deliver this as a full Software-Defined Data Center or SDDC. Essentially you create a self-service interface, where the end user can actually build and create their networks for themselves. They no longer have to wait for the storage team to have enough storage, the network team to create the networks etc. They can do it themselves. So that’s a big “aha” moment for a lot of customers, They realize: ”we actually can deliver something secure, that works, and that’s isolated to the business in a reasonable amount of time.”

Seeing this transition made me realize that getting my VCDX-NV was a great opportunity. I just felt like if we were going to be in this market space, if we were going to be considered NSX experts, we had to have at least one person, if not many people, who were officially qualified by VMware. The experience was great. VMware went out of their way to really make a strong impression on us, and to invest in every candidate, to make it so that as many of us as possible would succeed and get through the process. I’m not going to say it wasn’t hard! The process is what it should be. It definitely will test you. But if you’re a network engineer, you’re going to want to learn as much as you can about networks. Certainly if you’re a CCIE and you have those skills, and you’ve passed certification for the physical network and all of the related design concepts. I would strongly advise you to get some form of NSX certification with VMware, even if it’s not the full VCDX-NV. The more you know, the more it’s going to help you. You still need to understand the underpinnings, the physical network, but you have that already, so take advantage. Learning about the software aspects of network virtualization can be instrumental in your job growth, your advancement. It’s going to help you in your career.

At the end of the day, this is technology. Technology changes very rapidly. Anybody who’s been around the technology world knows things change at a very, very quick pace. You can’t rest on your laurels. You have to retool yourself. You have to always retool yourself.