Cisco driven start-up heads for SDNs

PLUMgrid emerges from stealth with $10.7 million, eyes on a $40 billion market

A start-up that bases its product line and business model on software-defied networking concepts is emerging from stealth mode.

PLUMgrid announced this week that it landed $10.7 million in Series A funding from US Venture Partners and Hummer Winblad Venture Partners. PLUMgrid was founded in early 2011 with an initial funding of $2 million, and is working on an “ecosystem-driven network infrastructure built on software-defined networking (SDN) concepts.”

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The company will establish a beachhead in network virtualization and then branch out from there into other areas of programmable networking, said CEO and Co-founder Awais Nemat. Nemat, a former Marvell Semiconductor and Cisco executive and engineer, founded PLUMgrid with two other former Cisco engineers.

The rest of PLUMgrid’s workforce includes systems, silicon and software designers from Cisco, Marvell, Nicira, Sun, Vyatta and VMware with a five-year immersion in network virtualization. Yes, Cisco was even thinking about SDNs and network virtualization in the mid-2000s, perhaps longer.

PLUMgrid’s founders noted a shift in the way customers wanted to buy networking gear about six or seven years ago, when merchant silicon began to rival the capabilities of Cisco’s ASICs.

“The silicon and systems ecosystems are well-established,” Nemat says. “But the softwareand the applications that go on top are a big void, and that’s where we fit in. That’s the problem we are trying to solve.”

Just as the money moved from server manufacturers to silicon and software developers, so too will the money flow from network systems to silicon and software, Nemat says. And the opportunity is not small: $40 billion is at stake, he says, but divided into separate multibillion dollar silos with particular product requirements and customer segments.

With networking as the glue between compute and storage and applications in a cloud infrastructure, it too has to go the way of those other IT components – it has to be virtualized, Nemat says.

“When it is not virtualized, it is getting in the way of business,” he says. “So all the promises of virtualization delivered in compute, storage and applications have to be delivered again, in networking.”

But network virtualization is a beachhead for broader expansion of PLUMgrid’s technology, Nemat says. Without going into details on the technology or products, its applicability beyond network virtualization, he says the initial target market is a greenfield for PLUMgrid but not the destination.

“Network virtualization has arbitrary limitations,” Nemat says. PLUMgrid aims to remove those limitations and broadly apply its technology into other areas, he promises.

And this is how PLUMgrid differentiates itself from other network virtualization and SDN players like Nicira, which was co-founded by OpenFlow originator Martin Casado and is being acquired by VMware for $1.26 billion. Nemat says the acquisition is a “huge validation” for network virtualization and SDNs.

“This is the future and everyone knows it,” he says, adding that it also adds valuation to other network virtualization and SDN players.

And another differentiator from other SDN players is PLUMgrid’s reluctance to base its technology on OpenFlow. OpenFlow has a lot of momentum behind it as an enabler of SDNs because of its centralized control/distributed forwarding characteristics – Google fueled some of that momentum by employing it for interconnecting  12 worldwide data centers.

“It is a great concept (of decoupling the control plane for the data plane) but it is a demonstration of a concept,” Nemat says. “Is OpenFlow the right architecture for that separation? That remains to be seen.”

OpenStack, though, is “one of the leading contenders” for the orchestration layer of an SDN, Nemat says. OpenStack is another open source technology that’s being proposed as a cloud operating system.

PLUMgrid will sell its network infrastructure virtualization software to companies building and managing data centers. PLUMgrid is headquartered in Sunnyvale, CA.

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on https://twitter.com/Jim_Duffy.

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