Big Switch Looks to Drive OpenFlow SDN Protocol With Switch Light

The startup's open-source switching platform will help enterprises more easily adopt SDN via commodity "white-box" switches and through hypervisors.

Big Switch Networks officials are preparing an open-source thin switching platform that will bring software-defined networking capabilities and the OpenFlow controller protocol to "white-box" switches and virtualized data center environments.

Big Switch, one of a growing number of startups in the burgeoning SDN space, is unveiling its Switch Light platform, a commercial offering based on the Indigo Project that is part of the larger open-source SDN community's Project Floodlight. Switch Light, which will be generally available in the second half of the year, can be used as a virtual switch for virtualization hypervisors in servers or in physical switches that use commodity merchant silicon, according to company officials.

The goals of Switch Light, which was announced March 26, is to push the adoption of the OpenFlow protocol in data centers while giving enterprises alternatives to what Big Switch officials said are historically proprietary and closed networking architectures. It also is designed to encourage businesses to adopt Big Switch's own Open SDN Suite, a set of offerings rolled out in November 2012 that includes a network controller, a virtual switch and a network monitoring tool.

"In making our open-source thin switching platform available to the market, we aim to accelerate the development of OpenFlow-based switches, both through ODM and OEM partners, thereby catalyzing the deployment of OpenFlow networks," Big Switch CEO Guido Appenzeller said in a statement. "Customers are demanding choice in Open SDN hardware and want to unite their physical and virtual platforms. Switch Light is an important step down that path."

SDNs offer the promise of more flexible, scalable and programmable networks moving the network intelligence out of expensive and complex hardware—such as switches and routers—and into software-based controllers. Established networking vendors such as Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Juniper Networks are finding themselves competing with startups like Big Switch, Embrane and Plexxi in defining what SDNs will be. At the same time, tech companies like VMware and Oracle are looking to add SDN capabilities—through acquisitions—to their portfolios.

It will quickly become a booming market. IDC analysts in December 2012 predicted that SDN-related revenues will reach $360 million this year and will grow to $3.7 billion by 2016.

Big Switch's Switch Light offering will give enterprises options when deciding whether to go with SDN offerings from big vendors such as Cisco and HP or to opt for less-expensive alternatives. It also could be particularly attractive to companies like Google and Amazon, which run massive data centers and have often opted for white-box server makers to help drive down capital and operational costs. Such Web-based companies also are interested in improving network performance while keeping costs in check. Being able to bring in commodity white-box switches that support SDN and OpenFlow could be an attractive option.