Big Switch Looks to Link Physical, Virtual Switches for SDN

Big Switch, which enables companies to run physical and virtual networks on bare-metal switches, also rolls out elastic pricing for its SDN fabric.


Big Switch Networks officials are aiming to use the company's Big Cloud Fabric to unify both physical and virtual networks within cloud environments based on OpenStack.

The company this month announced the enhanced capabilities in Big Cloud Fabric 3.0 as part of a larger push to expand its goal to bring hyperscale networking to enterprises and service providers through its software-defined networking (SDN) portfolio.

"Big Switch's vision is to transform (modernize) networking and enable benefits of agility, simplicity, vendor choice and commodity economics," CEO Doug Murray said in an email to eWEEK. "Our strategy is to leverage hyperscale-style network principles to build products for normal-scale data center organizations (enterprise and telco/cloud providers)."

The principles Murray referred to include using open physical network switches based on merchant silicon, its own SDN controller to enable management via a single pane of glass, and a fabric architecture rather than a traditional box-by-box network architecture.

"Essentially, with the above principles, Big Switch is disaggregating the current industry standard proprietary network mainframe (NetFrame) chassis systems with SDN software innovations and commodity switch hardware," the CEO wrote. "By driving network transformation, Big Switch believes networking can gain the flexibility and agility required to meet the needs of the software-defined data center."

Until recently, the network has lagged as other data center resources—servers and storage—have become increasingly virtualized. Networking traditionally has featured complex and expensive proprietary switches and other gear that contain the control plane and networking functions, which make them difficult and time-consuming to program. However, SDN and network-functions virtualization (NFV) are bringing much of that into software that can run on inexpensive commodity switches that are more programmable, scalable and agile.

Since adopting a strategy under Murray that is focused on running physical and virtual networks on bare-metal switches, Big Switch built out its portfolio not only with the Big Cloud Fabric, but also products like Big Monitoring Fabric for network traffic management and security and its Switch Light operating system for physical systems.

Now, as part of Big Cloud Fabric 3.0, Big Switch's Switch Light software can run on those physical switches running Switch Light OS as well as virtualized KVM (kernel-based virtual machine) servers running Switch Light VX. In addition, Big Switch is offering a number of starter kits for OpenStack clouds that come preconfigured with switch hardware, cables, support and Big Cloud Fabric software, starting at $49,000.

At the same time, Big Switch is expanding the integration of Big Cloud Fabric with VMware products, including supporting vSphere 6 and VMware Integrated OpenStack (VIO).

"We are investing significantly to programmatically interact with VMware's products so that network changes occur automatically in response to changes in vSphere environments," Murray wrote. "Network admins do not need to get involved each time VM deployment takes place. This is a huge benefit to application, virtualization and networking teams as it introduces agility and automation into the networking silo of the data center, which has not been able to keep pace with innovations in compute and storage."

Big Switch also is offering an elastic pricing model that officials said reflects the flexible pay-per-use consumption formula often found in hyperscale environments. Customers essentially can get twice the amount of the company's SDN hardware than they need at no additional cost, and then bring on the excess capacity as needed and pay for it as it's used. For example, an organization needing a four-rack configuration can get eight racks of Big Switch's fabric for the same price. The extra capacity can be brought online as needed for $599 per switch per month.

Customers can pay up-front for what they need immediately and plan for the future.

"This is an indication that customers are comfortable deploying open networking (whitebox/britebox) switches and SDN solutions in a broad-based manner, and are asking for pricing elasticity," Murray wrote. "Also, it shows that Ethernet switch hardware is becoming standardized and commodity, which is enabling not only vendor choice for hardware but also elastic pricing that is unheard of in proprietary and high-margin network equipment provided by traditional box-based vendors."