OpenFlow start-up aiming at Cisco's dominance

Big Switch open sources its controller source code to spur ecosystem, innovation

OpenFlow start-up Big Switch Networks is submitting its controller software to the open-source community in order to catalyze an ecosystem of application developers, according to GigaOm. The Big Switch software, called Floodlight, is offered under the same Apache 2.0 license as Hadoop and OpenStack, the open-source projects for distributed processing of large data sets and cloud computing, respectively.

OpenFlow is a protocol and API for opening up the flow tables of multivendor routers and switches so traffic can be configured and managed by an external controller through software. Vendors typically have proprietary techniques for configuring and managing their specific routers and switches, meaning operators have to configure each and every one individually using tools provided by that vendor.

OpenFlow is intended to facilitate a software-defined network in which the infrastructure is virtualized and manipulated through software, rather than manually or physically. It's also proposed as way to further innovate a network by developing new network-wide capabilities abstracted from the physical hardware they will run on.

OpenFlow is one way to accomplish this though there are many more - both standard and proprietary.

Sample applications considered to be a fit for OpenFlow include load balancing, energy and power efficiency, multi-tenant isolation in a data center, flow control in cloud computing environments, and VLAN management.

Cisco says it's adding OpenFlow to its Nexus switches. It also says it's formulating a response to OpenFlow as many vendors - including Big Switch - see it as a way to chip away at Cisco's omnipresence in networking, and commoditize network hardware. Says Big Switch co-founder Kyle Forster in the GigaOm post:

"Since networking is dominated by one big company we think it's going to take a whole ecosystem to make a change."

Juniper, meanwhile, just added OpenFlow 1.0 to its Junos SDK. The spec has scores of other proponents - and detractors - and a host of start-ups either endorsing OpenFlow or its SDN objectives. Embrane and Contextream are two, and others include Nicira, Gnodal Networks and LineRate Systems.

Big Switch is releasing the Floodlight controller source code on its website. With it, the company hopes to cultivate acres of applications for its, and perhaps other, OpenFlow controllers.

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