Big Switch Networks says it will release a platform for running OpenFlow-based switches on white box servers. Is this the challenge traditional switch-makers fear?

Thin switch coming for software defined networks

The fledgling software-defined networking movement has always carried the possibility that it could seriously damage large switch manufacturers through its approach of centrally managing networks on volume switches and servers.

Big Switch Networks says it will soon take a step to making that threat possible with the release of what it calls an open source thin-switching software platform for white-box switches.

White box switches using merchant silicon – that is, non-proprietary chips for third party equipment makers — aren’t new: They are the networking equivalent of white box servers.

But Big Switch said Tuesday its upcoming Switch Light platform enables the OpenFlow protocol to run on top of Linux-powered white box switches that use merchant silicon, or as a virtual switch in environments that use Linux’s KVM hypervisor.

Switch Light is based on the open source Indigo Project, part of the open source community’s SDN Project Floodlight.

Big Switch’s first deal is with chip maker Broadcom Corp, whose silicon is used in switches made by Quanta and Accton Technology Corp, according to Jason Matlof, Big Switch’s vice-president of marketing.

“Switch Light is a catalyst to drive best in class OpenFlow implementations in the industry.” Matlof said.

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To be released in the second half of the year after beta tests (which begin in June), Switch Light would give Big Switch a foot in each of the three-level stack it believes a software defined network (SDN) needs to have: Switch Light in the data plane, the Big Network Controller in the control plane and its Big Virtual Switch and Big Tap — a network monitor — in the applications layer.

However, as a company that works with original network switch makers supporting OpenFlow, Matlof said it isn’t trying to compete with the likes of Cisco Systems Inc and Hewlett-Packard Co.

So Switch Light will be free to commercial uses if they pay for licences to use Big Network Controller, Big Virtual Switch or Big Tap.
Industry analyst Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research said the announcement will help the adoption of OpenFlow-based software defined networks because it makes more switches available to those interested in that approach. But, he added, it will likely be service and hosting providers — who he said have more interest in infrastructure running on commodity boxes — that will be interested most.
 
Enterprises will likely want the comfort of an SDN approach from their traditional infrastructure suppliers, he said, companies like Cisco System, Juniper Networks and others.

In practice, Matlof said, an organization wanting to use a physical switch in an SDN network to take advantage of Switch Light would buy a white box switch that offers the capability, plug it into the network and point it at a site to update the firm ware. Then the Big Network Controller would be centrally configured and provisioned.

Extreme Network said it will support Switch Light.on its hybrid switch line.

While initially Switch Light will be available for physical switches with Broadcom chips and for KVM hypervisors, Big Switch Networks hopes to add other platforms.

“By delivering highly reliable, standards-based switches for data center top-of-rack deployments and spine networks, Accton helps customers reduce the cost of their private and public cloud infrastructures,” George Tchaparian, the company’s CTO and senior vice-president said in a statement. “Accton’s Gigabit Ethernet, 10G Ethernet and 40G Ethernet switch hardware products together with Big Switch Networks’ Switch Light will provide customers with a complete SDN solution that reduces capital and operating costs while enabling more rapid provisioning of new applications and capacity.”

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