This week the fifth Open Networking Summit was held in Santa Clara, the heart of Silicon Valley. As in years past, the event held an "SDN Idol" competition where several vendors entered an SDN-related product for a set of judges to vote on to create a set of finalists. The four finalists then demonstrated their entries at the event and a final winner was chosen.
In addition to myself, the judges included Jim Smith, GM of Mohr Davidow Ventures, Tom Anschutz, Distinguished Member of Technical Staff for AT&T, and Geng Lin, CTO of Corporate Networks for Google. The judging criteria involved understanding the business value, technology value, and differentiation against the competition.
The four finalists for the SDN Idol track were:
- Cavium: XPliant Switch
- Huawei: SDN-based IP and Optical Synergy
- NEC: SDN Cyber Attack Auto Protection
- Pluribus Network: Integrated Network Analytics
I wanted to offer congratulations to all of the finalists, as these were a solid set of products. However, there can only be one winner, and the winner of the 2015 SDN Idol competition was Cavium. For those not familiar with Cavium, the company is a provider of semiconductor-based products that enable intelligent processing for enterprise, data center, cloud and wireless networking.
The XPliant Ethernet switch silicon is used in a wide variety of fixed form factor and modular products that can be used as a top-of-rack, spine switch, end of row or aggregation switch. XPliant is high-speed silicon that supports OpenFlow through the company's SDK APIs and integration of the Open vSwitch.
The differentiator for Cavium is what the company calls its "XPliant Packet Architecture (XPA)" that offers a flexible pipeline architecture at 3.2 Tbps of throughput. Historically, with switching products, fixed pipeline architecture were used where the control and forwarding of the switch is hardwired in. This is how networking vendors can achieve throughputs in the multi Tb range. Vendors that want more flexibility can use network processors, but that can sacrifice performance, sometimes by an order of magnitude.
Cavium's XPA offers highly flexible architectures but still maintains 3.2 Tbps. In the switch, the packet parser, forwarding, and editor logic are all fully programmable to support forwarding schemes at any layer.
The value of the XPA is that Cavium can bring the benefits of software defined networking to the switch itself. One could think of this silicon as enabling "software defined switching" at the box level. Today's more modern data centers require switches with different forwarding resources and profiles based on where they are located in the network. Some might be layer 2-centric while others are at layer 3. With fixed architectures, forwarding and lookup tables are hardwired, making it difficult to meet the demands of all the different places in the network. One solution would be to use a more flexible switch that uses network processors, but as I stated above, this normally means a lack of performance. This may have been sufficient in the past, but data centers today need to operate at cloud scale and need both performance and agility.
The Cavium switch silicon is another step forward for the SDN market is it enables users to define and implement their own forwarding schemes in a high-throughput switch. A well-deserved SDN Idol win for Cavium.