OpenFlow startup takes aim at Cisco, VMware

Big Switch Networks unveils products, customers, partnerships for SDNs

Big Switch Networks has announced the general availability of its OpenFlow-based software-defined networking products and applications, as well as customers and partners.

OpenFlow and SDNs are hyped as the networking industry's next revolution in that they have the potential to disrupt the proprietary entanglements of today's physical infrastructures through software programmability. At the same time, SDNs are viewed as a less vendor-dependent alternative to physical and virtual network offerings from Cisco and VMware, even though those two titans offer programmable network and virtualization offerings themselves.

MORE TO IT THAN JUST THAT: Cisco on why OpenFlow alone won't cut it

Indeed, VMware just spent $1.26 billion to acquire network virtualization startup Nicira, reportedly out from under Cisco. Cisco, meanwhile, is funding to the tune of $100 million to $750 million a spin-in called Insieme Networks, which is believed to be developing programmable switches and a controller.

Big Switch may be the next big payoff in SDNs. Armed with $39 million in venture funding, Big Switch produced the Big Switch Open SDN product suite, which is designed to enable customers to adopt new network applications more easily than they can with traditional, non-programmable networks. The suite supports "open" standards and APIs, including OpenFlow, and is intended to be hardware platform-independent, Big Switch says.

HP is also a big proponent of OpenFlow and released a controller, 25 OpenFlow-enabled switches and applications a month ago. All OpenFlow advocates hope to disrupt the status quo.

"This represents a dramatically different environment that's not controlled by the incumbent," says Joe Skorupa, an analyst at Gartner. "Cisco is not out front (in SDNs); they are the disruptee. The competition has demonstrated that what they have is viable. It will be hard for Cisco to say, 'It doesn't work; it's a science project; buy ours because the standard isn't ready.' This is a much, much different environment to be in."

The Big Switch Networks product suite includes Big Network Controller (BNC), which scales to more than a thousand switches and 250,000 new host connections per second; Big Tap, a unified network monitoring application designed to provide enterprise-wide network visibility; and Big Virtual Switch (BVS), a data center network virtualization application designed for automated network provisioning.

Big Network Controller includes an OpenFlow southbound programming interface, a RESTful API for northbound communications, and is based on the Floodlight open source controller code available under the Apache 2.0 license. It's designed to provide network abstraction for the physical infrastructure, policy-based functions across the fabric, and centralized intelligence for the programmable network.

Big Tap is designed to provide continuous network visibility so users can optimize the use of security tools, performance tools and network packet brokers. The application filters and directs traffic to meet the needs of analytical tools, and monitors the efficiency, performance and scalability of Ethernet switches, Big Switch says.

Big Virtual Switch supports up to 32,000 virtual network segments, enabling multi-tenancy and dynamic workload allocation, Big Switch says. It offers integration into orchestration systems, including OpenStack, CloudStack, Microsoft System Center and VMware vCenter. Big Switch says the BVS application enables up to 50% more VMs per rack, and up to $500,000 per rack in capital cost savings and $30,000 per rack per year in operational savings, based on a 40-server rack.

Production customers for the Big Switch Open SDN product suite include Fidelity Investments and Goldman Sachs. Ecosystem partners include 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 Vyatta. These companies plan to support the products and develop applications to its APIs, Big Switch says.

Big Switch's challenge, naturally, will be execution, just as it is with any startup or established vendor, Skorupa says.

"They still have to build a viable business model," Skorupa says, especially with many vendors expected to eventually internally develop their own OpenFlow controllers, like HP did.

Pricing for Big Network Controller starts under $1,700 per month. Big Tap starts at under $500 per month, and Big Virtual Switch starts at under $4,200 per month. All products are available now.

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 Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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