For a company recently called “the most intriguing startup in Silicon Valley” by Wired magazine, Nicira is involved in what sounds like the dullest field imaginable: software-based networking.
But don’t be fooled. Nicira is on the verge of reinventing the Internet, and if they succeed they’ll put Cisco, one of the original giants of the web, out of business.
To understand what it means to have a virtual network, you have to understand what kind of hardware runs the Internet today. Servers, routers, switches and other networking devices are hardcoded with the firmware to route signals to their correct destinations.
The result is stable, but notoriously difficult to modify or update. Engineers often have to literally move servers and physically reroute cables in order to make even small changes to the network. This in a world where we have virtual worlds, virtual identities, virtual currency, virtual computers, but no virtual networks.
Nicira is about to change all that.
They are getting all the intelligence and functionality that today lies in the hardware, and putting it into the software. The potential result is an instantly configurable, infinitely flexible, dynamically resilient network that can run on cheap hardware from China just as easily as the most expensive Cisco servers.
They are, in short, commoditizing networks. Today if you want a network you have to build your own billion-dollar datacenter or rent cloud storage and computing power from Amazon or Rackspace.
In the future, you will be able to use the cheapest hardware to create virtual networks limited only by your programming skills and imagination.
The era of the virtual network is about to arrive, and it may change everything. Again.