Chief Technologist, Operations Transformation.

VMware’s Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) is a transformative set of technologies. NSX® is the critical component of SDDC, providing unheard of levels of flexibility and agility through network virtualization and security capabilities. But, you can’t, or shouldn’t expect to fully leverage software-defined networking and security by taking a “business as usual” IT operations approach.

Many customers realize this, consequently I am frequently asked three questions:

  • Who should be responsible for NSX in my organization?
  • How will NSX affect my existing processes?
  • What tools and training will my team need to be effective?

Nevertheless, there is always one question I am asked, especially at the executive level –
Who should be responsible for NSX in my organization?

SPOILER ALERT: answering this question is the key to operationalizing NSX.

Who should be responsible for NSX?

NSX is based on concepts that require networking expertise, but also requires knowledge of SDDC and virtualization.

Should the virtualization team be responsible and needs to acquire networking expertise?
Does the networking team need to acquire virtualization expertise and retain ownership?

The simple answer is, it’s typically much easier for people with networking technical skills to understand virtualization than it is for people focused on building and operating your virtualization landscape to understand. For example, BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) and OSPF (Open Shortest Path First). There are always exceptions of course, but as a general rule this has been my experience.

Therefore, the answer is that the network team should retain ownership. YES?

I admittedly cheated here a bit. I went from taking responsibility to retaining ownership of NSX. I did this intentionally to make a point that’s critical to understanding the key to operationalizing NSX.

It is true we recommend networking should be responsible for NSX from a technical perspective, to fully leverage all of the software-defined capabilities to deliver greater business value and faster. But, to truly gain larger business advantage, we recommend using a blended team that includes networking resources, taking a cross-domain, and cross-functional approach.

The key to operationalizing NSX

The goal in creating a blended team is to break down the cross-functional and cross-domain IT silos as shown below, that inhibit agility and execution speed. It intends to replace them with a team built for tight collaboration and focus. Creating such a team, for example, results in faster and better decision making, reduced time to problem resolution, and more operationally ready solutions.

The blended team needs to be self-contained. It should include Architecture, Engineering, and Operations capabilities thereby breaking down the IT silos that have evolved in the Plan, Build, Run organizational paradigm. One key advantage of this approach is having operations involved in much tighter collaboration with Architecture, resulting in more operationally ready deployments. The team should also be self-contained from a technical perspective by having core technical disciplines represented on the blended team, thereby eliminating cross-technology handoffs and decreasing time to value for resulting solutions.

This blended team can be physical or virtual, matrixed or under a single manager. There is no “best” answer as these decisions tend to be very company-specific, often involving politics and cultural dynamics. Achieving the guiding principle of creating a blended, cross functional, cross-domain team is what matters. It can work in various organizational and reporting structures.

The common success factors

  1. The team is built with a clear purpose and shared objectives.
  2. They are incentivized on achieving team objectives more so than individual objectives.
  3. They are as self-sufficient as possible with decision authority and the associated accountability to achieve their objectives.

In addition to technical and domain skills, it is important to have an enthusiastic team of change agents who can naturally act as evangelists. This is a new technology and way of working. They must embrace this change and make it infectious for others. This is essential to ensure on-going success as software defined capabilities, including networking and security, start to represent a larger percentage of the overall infrastructure and become more business critical.

Successfully leveraging NSX, as well as the software defined data center more broadly, depends on making operating model changes that affect people, process, and tools. Focusing on the people perspective first will have the biggest impact. Without it, you’re simply implementing a very good enabling technology which will only get you part of the way to achieving the needed level for agility and time to value to be successful.

Kevin Lees is the field Chief Technologist for IT Operations Transformation at VMware. His focus is on how customers optimize the way they operate VMware-supported environments and solutions. Kevin serves as an advisor to global customer senior executives for their IT operations transformation initiatives. He also leads the IT Transformation activities in VMware’s Global Field Office of the CTO. He is the author of the book Operationalizing VMware NSX which provides knowledge and guidance for achieving operating model optimization for operating a NSX-based network and security infrastructure. The book not only addresses tactical optimizations such as monitoring and troubleshooting, but through a more strategic nature, such as team structure and culture, roles, responsibilities, and skillsets, as well as supporting ITSM process considerations. 

It can be downloaded from here.