Big Switch touts commercial SDN suite

The problem with leading edge technology is that it’s leading edge – sometimes the idea is sound but the parts aren’t all there.

As a result, there are lots of followers and few leaders willing to take risks with a new concept.

Big Switch Networks, a startup aimed at advancing software defined networking (SDN), thinks it can make enterprises more willing to take that risk by unveiling Tuesday what is believed to be the first open standards-based SDN suite.

Sold as downloadable software with a Linux operating system to run on the hardware of the customer’s choice, Its components are

–Big Virtual Switch, a network virtualization application which can dynamically provision virtual network segments;

–Big Network Controller, an application platform with gives unified network intelligence over virtual and physical networks;

–and Big Tap, a network monitor that can scale across virtual networks.

Network equipment companies such as Cisco Systems Inc., Juniper Networks, Brocade Communications, NEC, IBM and others have released SDN application interfaces for controlling their infrastructure, switches or controllers, said Andre Kindness, enterprise networking analyst at Forrester research. But no company has released all three, he said.

“From a technology standpoint they hit the nail on the head on the three components,” he said.

Release of al “will send a shock wave through the industry,” said

In addition, Big Switch announced over 40 physical and hypervisor switch, security cloud orchestration and application partners who have endorsed its approach including Juniper, Brocade, Extreme Networks, F5 Networks, Palo Alto Networks and Citrix.

That is, almost everyone except Cisco.

Support from these network-related companies is essential because a switch and controller alone can’t make an SDN.

Big Switch “went off and did their homework,” said Kindness. “The key is to have that (ecosystem) in their back pocket” to reassure enterprises, he said.

Similarly, Zeus Kerravala, principal of ZK Research, said the partner list is “impressive.” It means Big Switch can offer a broader network strategy than competitors, he said.

Although definitions vary, software defined networking separates a network’s control plane in physical routers and switches into a separate layer that network operators can customize the network for specific applications. Its use is particularly important in data centres where virtual loads shift across servers, virtual servers and virtual networks.

Founded in 2010, Big Switch Networks released its first product earlier this year, an open source controller called Floodlight, which is giving developers a taste of SDN’s potential.

Big Network Controller is based on Footlight. But BNC, an application platform that delivers unified network intelligence and abstraction, is made for enterprises with a set of services including role-based access control.

It can support up to 250,000 new host connections per second, Harding said.

Big Virtual Switch dynamically provisions virtual network segments so network can be sliced up like virtual servers.

As a result, workloads can be mixed across virtual servers and improve VM density.

Big Virtual Switch can integrate into orchestration systems such as OpenStack, CloudStack, VMware vCenter and Microsoft Systems Center.

While many see the ideal SDN network controllers linked to switches through the OpenFlow protocol, some see the need for an overlay network.

Harding said Big Virtual Switch also can work in hybrid environments with non-OpenFlow switches, virtual switches and OpenFlow top of rack switches.

Big Virtual Switch, which starts at under US$4,200 a month, and Big Network Controller, which starts at under $1,700, come in a bundled suite.

Bit Tap, which starts at under $500 a month, is sold separately.

Still, SDN is an emerging technology. Kindness notes that universities and telecom carriers are excited about the potential of SDN, but are still in the testing phase. One of SDN’s hurdles is that data centre operations and networking staff don’t yet have the software coding capabilities to take advantage of it, he said. For that reason alone enterprises won’t be putting it into production yet, he said.

Kerravala also predicts only a small number of SDN implementations in enterprises in the near future.

Eight-five per cent of companies he talks to are still researching software-defined networks. Google is deeply involved in SDN, he admits, but it has 100 network engineers.

“The principles of SDN are sound, but it’s very complicated (today). I’ve always said you don’t want a solution to a problem to be more complicated than the problem.”

If organizations see practical use cases and case studies, he said, that will be a big help.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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