This morning, SDN startup Big Switch unveiled its strategy to end what might be the worst job of being in stealth mode in the history of networking. I’m not sure that anyone in the networking industry wasn’t at least partially aware of what Big Switch was doing. However, there were gaps in my and others' knowledge, so today’s announcement clarifies the strategy. It certainly lived up to the hype, which isn’t easy considering the publicity surrounding SDNs since VMware's acquisition of Nicira.
I was half expecting a "me too" announcement from Big Switch to announce a controller and then ride on the coat tails of VMware/Nicira, but the company announcements were differentiated from the rest of the field and from what my expectations were. Here are the highlights of the announcement:
- A suite approach. Instead of just announcing a single product, Big Switch launched a set of SDN-based products. These products were the Big Network Controller (BNC), Big Tap, a unified network monitoring application and Big Virtual Switch (BVS), which is obviously their version of a network switch. BNC sits above the data plane tier to act as the control plane for the SDN and then Big Tap and BVS are applications that interface with the controller. While the controller was expected, the other two products are good examples of applications that can leverage a software-defined network.
- A "who’s who" of ecosystem partners. The launch also included a very impressive list of partners that includes A10 Networks, Arista Networks, Broadcom, Brocade, Canonical, Cariden, Citrix, Cloudscaling, Coraid, Dell, Endace, Extreme Networks, F5, Fortinet, Infoblox, Juniper Networks, Mellanox, Microsoft, Mirantis, Nebula, Piston Cloud, Palo Alto Networks, Radware, StackOps, ThreatSTOP, vArmour, and Gigamon. There are a couple of obvious names missing here, including Cisco and HP Networking. I know from conversations with Big Switch that the company would like to have at least Cisco as a partner, but that’s probably more up to Cisco than Big Switch. Big Switch was also very clear about the fact that it’s not trying to commoditize the network layer like some of the controller vendors. Instead, it looks at the list of companies above as very important partners that can help deliver real value to the end buyer.
- A focus on physical and virtual infrastructure. One of the practical use cases (as evidenced by BVS) is the ability to virtualize network resources. This has been well documented and the industry has gone as crazy over the concept of network virtualization as my 13-year-old daughter Ari has over Justin Bieber. However, we’re really just starting down the path of network virtualization. If you look back at server virtualization, it took the industry over a decade to get to the point where we had more virtual servers than physical servers. The same will be true for network virtualization, meaning Big Switch’s focus on physical infrastructure is a significant differentiator today.
Those were the main product areas where Big Switch differentiated itself with the announcement. In the briefing they gave me, the company also gave some actual ROI numbers, which is the first time a vendor has actually tried to quantify the benefits with real numbers.
After a long period of speculation and hype, Big Switch is finally here. In the words of the immortal Axl Rose, "welcome to the jungle."