Cisco has some more company in SDNs

Enterprise data center start-up Plexxi goes into "private" beta

Stealthy data center start-up Plexxi is revealing a tiny bit more about itself. The company blogged this week that it is now entering "private beta" with its products, the substance of which Plexxi is still tight-lipped about.

In the blog, it describes them as a "networking system from the ground up" for enterprise data centers, addressing current pain points of network automation and scale:

What that looks like is an integrated hardware/software offering that allows data center operators to build and manage a network from the perspective of the needs of the applications or workloads. We aim to resolve two major issues in the network-network automation and network scale-by leveraging the concept of affinities (the complete set of data center resources required to execute a given workload).

Plexxi will have some giant company. Cisco just announced its Cisco ONE network programmability strategy, which encompasses enterprise data centers as well as four other markets. And Juniper is squarely targeting its SDN initiative on data centers. Add to this roster, Brocade, HP, Arista and some other notable start-ups and, well, you have a hot and hotly contested market.

In a call with Network World, Plexxi Vice President of Product Management Mat Mathews described the company's product as a top-of-rack device capable of "east/west" communication with other Plexxi devices, and obviating the need for core and aggregation tiers in an enterprise data center. The devices also virtualize Layer 1 through optics, Mathews said.

And in keeping with the current SDN trends in the industry, 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," Mathews said. This is because OpenFlow lacks all of the capabilities needed for Plexxi's controller-to-switch interaction.

"We're doing more than (manipulating) Ethernet forwarding tables," he said, though adding that decoupling of the control and forwarding planes is necessary to leverage the capabilities of the Plexxi software.

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

The controller will be the aggregation point for that API. And that controller will deliver workload placement down to the network layer, Mathews says.

"Here's a workload, here's what it needs, here's where we fit it in," he says. "We'll have a universe of all possible paths, arranged in the right combination to fit application and workload needs."

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