Pica8, one of a growing number of startups in an increasingly crowded and competitive field in the software-defined networking space, is rolling out an SDN reference architecture aimed at cloud providers.
Pica8 officials, who introduced the open reference architecture Dec. 10, said cloud providers can use the solution to build their own SDN solutions. The reference architecture brings together the Open vSwitch 1.7.1—a virtual switch that can be integrated with OpenStack—version 1.2 of the OpenFlow protocol that runs in Pica8’s own PicOS operating system, and the Ryu 1.4 OpenFlow controller that was created by NTT Laboratories. All this is brought together in a white box from Pica8.
The solution from Pica8—a startup begun in 2009 that spun out of Quanta earlier this year and came out of stealth mode with the introduction of the reference architecture and its technology—joins a growing list of SDN offerings hitting the market. Interest in SDN is growing among both enterprises and service providers who are looking for ways to make their networks more dynamic, automated, scalable and cost-effective.
SDN’s are designed to essentially take many of the networking tasks—such as directing traffic and minimizing latency—now being performed on expensive pieces of hardware, such as switches, and do them instead in software. Established networking vendors from Cisco Systems to Hewlett-Packard to Juniper Networks are beginning to bring SDN elements to their offerings, while startups like Pica8, Big Switch Networks and Adara are coming into the market with their own solutions.
Companies like VMware and Oracle, which have little or no networking expertise but are growing their data center solutions, are getting into the SDN game through acquisitions of smaller vendors like Nicira and Xsigo, respectively.
Steve Garrison, Pica8’s vice president of marketing, told eWEEK that the company saw an opportunity to bring the reference architecture into the market to fill a need. While enterprises are looking for complete SDN solutions to bring into their data centers, cloud service providers are more interest in getting a base solution that they can build on and then offer as a service to customers. With the Pica8 reference architecture, service providers can now do just that.
“We’re trying to get the conversation past ‘what’s inside’ and more to ‘what can I really do with it?’” Garrison said. “We wanted to give developers a platform to play with.”
Given this, it was important to build a reference architecture that leverages the various emerging open network protocols, such as Open vSwitch, OpenFlow and OpenStack. Service providers “aren’t looking for a turnkey solution,” he said. “They’re looking for a platform they can customize.”
The nascent SDN market is still in its early days, and while there are some early adopters—mostly companies with massive data centers that are looking to improve performance while driving down operating costs—working to leverage SDN and network virtualization technologies, most enterprises and service providers are still in the investigatory stage, Garrison said.
Data centers have seen SDN technology and “played with it. Have they deployed it? No, not yet,” he said. “But they are looking at it.”
Still, Pica8 has some customers, including Baidu, the giant search vendor in China, and Yahoo Japan, according to Garrison. Other such companies will follow suit in adopting SDN, which makes networks more programmable and customizable than current network infrastructures, which require much more manual intervention, he said.
Making the networks more automated and dynamic will help drive down operating costs; Garrison said operating expenses currently can account for as much as 90 percent of what some companies spend on their networks.
“They get the pain,” he said, adding that they now are investigating SDNs to see how they can help. “People are still figuring out what it means. … There’s a lot of questions to be answered.”
Pica8 officials expect that their reference architectures—the first one released Dec. 10 will be followed by more in the months to come—will help answer some of those questions.