Big Switch Networks made the news very early today — one article was posted precisely at midnight ET — with an announcement of general availability of its SDN controller, two applications that run on it, and an ecosystem of partners.
Customers also are in the picture, though it wasn’t made explicit in the Big Switch press release whether Fidelity Investments and Goldman Sachs are running Big Switch’s products in production networks. In a Network World article, however, Jim Duffy writes that Fidelity and Goldman Sachs are “production customers for the Big Switch Open SDN product suite.”
Controller, Applications, Ecosystem
The company’s announced products, encompassed within its Open Software Defined Networking architecture, feature the Big Network Controller, a proprietary version of the open-source Floodlight controller, and the two aforementioned applications. An SDN controller without applications is like, well, an operating system without applications. Accordingly, Big Switch has introduced Big Virtual Switch, an application for network virtualization, and Big Tap, a unified network monitoring application.
Big Virtual Switch is the company’s answer to Nicira’s Network Virtualization Platform (NVP). Big Switch says the product supports up to 32,000 virtual-network segments and can be integrated with cloud-management platforms such as OpenStack (Quantum), CloudStack, Microsoft System Center, and VMware vCenter. As Big Switch illustrates on its website, Big Virtual Switch can be deployed on Big Network Controller in pure overlay networks, in pure OpenFlow networks, and in hybrid network-virtualization environments.
According to the company, Big Virtual Switch can deliver significant CAPEX and OPEX benefits. A graphical figure — tagged Economics of Big Virtual Switch — included in a product data sheet claims the company’s L2/L3 network virtualization facilitates “up to 50% more VMs per rack” and delivers CAPEX savings of $500,000 per rack annually and OPEX savings of $30,000 per rack annually. For those estimates, Big Switch assumes a rack size of 40 servers and suggests savings can be accrued across severs, operating-system instances, storage, networking, and operations.
Strategies in Flux
Big Virtual Switch and Big Tap are essential SDN applications, but the company’s ultimate success in the marketplace will turn on the support its Big Network Controller receives from third-party vendors. Big Switch is aware of its external dependencies, which is why it has placed so much emphasis on its ecosystem, which it says includes A10 Networks, Arista Networks, Broadcom, Brocade, Canonical, Cariden Technologies, Citrix, Cloudscaling, Coraid, Dell, Endace, Extreme Networks, F5 Networks, Fortinet, Gigamon, Infoblox, Juniper Networks, Mellanox Technologies, Microsoft, Mirantis, Nebula, Palo Alto Networks, Piston Cloud Computing, Radware, StackOps, ThreatSTOP, and vArmour. The Big Switch press release includes an appendix of “supporting quotes” from those companies, but the company will require more than lip service from its ecosystem.
Some companies will find that their interests are well aligned with those of Big Switch, but others are likely to be less motivated to put energy and resources into Big Switch’s SDN platform. If you consider the vendor names listed above, you might deduce that the SDN strategies of more than a few are in flux. Some are considering whether to offer SDN controllers of their own. Even those who have no controller aspirations might be disinclined to bet too heavily or too early on a controller platform. They’ll follow the customers and the money.
A growing number of commercial controllers are on the market (VMware/Nicira, NEC, and Big Switch) or have been announced as coming to market (IBM, HP, Cisco). Others will follow. Loyalties will shift as controller fortunes wax and wane.
Courting the Channel
With that in mind, Big Switch is seeking to enlist channel partners as well as technology partners. In a CRN article, we learn that Big Switch “has begun to recruit systems integrator and data center infrastructure-focused solution providers that can consult and design network architecture using Big Switch software and products from a galaxy of ecosystem partners.” In fact, Big Switch wants all its commercial sales to go through channel partners.
In the CRN piece, Dave Butler, VP of sales at Big Switch, is candid about the symbiotic relationship the company desires from partners:
“None of our products work well alone in a data center — this is a very rigorous and rich ecosystem of partners. We’ll pay a finder’s fee to anyone who brings the right opportunity to us, but we’re not really a product sale. We need the integrators that can create a bundled solution, because that’s what makes the difference.”
. . . . “We bring them (partners) in as the specialist, and they have probably a greater touch than we might. We are not taking deals direct. Then, you have to do all the work by yourself. This is a perfect solution for their services and expertise. And, they can make money with us.”
Needs a Little Help from Its Friends
The plan is clear. Big Switch’s vendor ecosystem is meant to attract channel partners that already are selling those vendors’ products and are interested in expanding into SDN solutions. The channel partners, including SIs and datacenter-solution providers, will then bring Big Switch’s SDN platform to customers, with whom they have existing relationships.
In theory, it all coheres. Big Switch knows it can’t go it alone against industry giants. It knows it needs more than a little help from its friends in the vendor community and the channel.
For Big Switch, the vendor ecosystem expedites channel recruitment, and an effective channel accelerates exposure to customers. Big Switch has to move fast and demonstrate staying power. The controller race is far from over.