Backed by $48M, startup Plexxi unveils SDN wares

Plexxi unveils controller and switch for network 'affinity'

SDN startup Plexxi this week unveiled its products, which attempt to re-engineer data center networks for new applications and cloud traffic patterns.

The company's first two products -- Plexxi Control and Plexxi Switch 1 -- are designed to make network topologies more efficient and supportive of current workload needs for big data, mobility and service-oriented architectures. Plexxi Control is server-based software that computes connectivity to support workload needs. Plexxi Switch provides low-latency 10G and 40G Ethernet access connections, and interconnect with each other using the company's LightRail optical interface.

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Plexxi Control has algorithms that provide network orchestration, management and control based on the needs of the workloads. The SDN controller uses distributed processing at the edge of the network for scale, and centralized knowledge for topology planning and optimization, Plexxi says.

The Plexxi Switch (below) uses high-density optical multiplexing to create single-tier programmable networks, the company says. The LightRail interconnect system provides 400Gbps of assignable core capacity per switch, scaling linearly with each switch to achieve 100Tbps in a 250-switch network, Plexxi claims.

The result is a system that creates a "workload-optimized" physical network that delivers what applications need when they need it, the company claims.

Plexxi, which has raised over $48 million, has plenty of company in software-defined networking. On the startup side, Big Switch Networks, PLUMgrid, Midokura and Embrane, among others, are attacking enterprise/data center SDNs from various angles; and among the established players, Cisco, VMware, HP, Juniper, IBM, Arista, Brocade, Extreme, Alcatel-Lucent, et al, have disclosed plans and partnerships for programmable networking in data centers, clouds and campus networks.

Plexxi calls its strategy Affinity Networking. The concept behind this is that physical and virtual servers, storage and networking devices need to be connected to each other as directly as possible, and that groups of these devices work together as part of an application workload -- exhibiting "affinity" to each other.

The Plexxi system then distributes network capabilities proportionally to these affinity groups rather than evenly to all such devices so that workloads are allocated what they need, and services are attributed to application needs, the company says. This helps guarantee service levels, Plexxi says.

Plexxi Switch 1 starts at $64,000 including all inter-switch optics and cabling; Plexxi Control starts at $5,000 per switch. Monthly pricing options are also available.

Plexxi said it will disclose its Affinity Networking application and API strategy early next year. Last summer, the company explained that the Plexxi devices will have software tools that include northbound and southbound interfaces for feeding network information to applications that can then manage the devices based on that information.

The southbound interface is not OpenFlow, but "OpenFlow-like," Plexxi said. This is because OpenFlow lacks all of the capabilities needed for Plexxi's controller-to-switch interaction, the company explained.

Plexxi said its northbound interface, for orchestration and automation, is intended to be open and published. Plexxi is working with other players in the compute, storage and analytics fields on the northbound API.

Plexxi's investors include Lightspeed Venture Partners, Matrix Partners and Northbridge Venture Partners. The company, whose founders hail from companies such as C-Port, Arbor Networks and Acme Packet, is headquartered in Cambridge, Mass.

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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