Comparing Embrane and Nicira is Pointless – They Are Different

Had a few conversations, and some articles, where comparisons are being made between Embrane and Nicira and wanted to point out that there are almost no similarities between these companies.


Embrane has a L4-7 application networking platform. The core software value of Embrane is about flow management so as to distribute IP traffic loads to various software instances. I’ve described the Embrane approach in this article Scaling Virtual Appliances With Embrane. The key points I’d like to highlight

  1. Embrane is about scaling L4-7 application loads
  2. Uses IP flow management concepts to achieve this
  3. Embrane is a platform strategy – not a product strategy. Other companies are expected to provide firewalls, load balls, WAN accel for their system.


Nicira has announced a Layer 2-3 software switch. From what I can tell, Nicira took the Open vSwitch code as a code base, then started adding flow configuration capabilities to it and developed their own controller to manage a large installed of software switches.

In effect, Nicira is living the OpenFlow/SDN dream, they just aren’t using those names to describe their product.

From this, there are a few points about Nicira I’d like to highlight:

  1. Niciria is about improving the operational costs of hyper-scale data centres – especially existing ones like eBay who they dragged into their first product announcement.
  2. Using flow configuration concepts to achieve this, probably based on OpenFlow in some way.
  3. Nicira is selling their software switch as product.

The EtherealMind View

I talked about Flow Forwarding yesterday in Defining Flow Forwarding Instead of Switch or Routing. Both Nicira and Embrane use Flow Forwarding but their methods of usage are very different. To use a metaphor, Embrane is an F5 LoadBalancer compared to an Arista Ethernet switch – they are both networking products with switching silicon but there is very little similarity after that.

This might look like I’m splitting hairs, but in networking terms, the companies are at different ends of the network market.


After writing this yesterday ( typically I write something and then wait a day, rewrite/edit and then post), Dante Malagrino from Embrane published Peeling The Onion Layer By Layer which makes the same point. Either he agrees with me, or I agree with him. Both are true.

About Greg Ferro

Greg Ferro is a Network Engineer/Architect, mostly focussed on Data Centre, Security Infrastructure, and recently Virtualization. He has over 20 years in IT, in wide range of employers working as a freelance consultant including Finance, Service Providers and Online Companies. He is CCIE#6920 and has a few ideas about the world, but not enough to really count.

He is a host on the Packet Pushers Podcast, blogger at and on Twitter @etherealmind and Google Plus

You can contact Greg via the site contact page.

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