Big Switch Networks, one of the early pioneers of the software-defined networking trend, is expanding the reach of its networking fabric with support for VMware virtualized environments and for Dell’s networking switches.
In addition, company officials on Jan. 28 also announced Big Switch was releasing an analytics module for its Big Cloud Fabric that will give customers greater visibility and actionable information about their networks.
The new capabilities in Big Cloud Fabric Release 2.5 are part of a larger effort by the company—which released its first software-defined networking (SDN) products in 2012—to grow its presence in the market for networking software that can run atop programmable bare metal hardware. The initiative fits in with the move to SDN and network-functions virtualization (NFV), particularly by customers running hyperscale data center environments, which are looking to run their networking management and applications in software on low-cost commodity systems.
The goal of SDN and NFV is to enable businesses to create networks that are more programmable, agile, scalable and cost-effective than traditional networks, where much of the control plane and networking tasks are housed in expensive and complex networking gear. Companies like Google and Facebook, which run massive data centers, are looking for networks that are scalable and flexible.
“They’re [building] their networks not box by box, but with one logical big switch,” Gregg Holzrichter, vice president and chief market officer at Big Switch, told eWEEK.
With release 2.5, Big Cloud Fabric—which was first launched in July 2014—now supports VMware’s vSphere server virtualization technology. The fabric’s controller can be integrated into VMware’s vCenter management tool to enable customers to automatically create networks on the physical SDN fabric. Unlike with traditional box-by-box integrations, the Big Cloud Fabric controller becomes the single point of integration with vCenter for an entire 16-rack leaf-spine Clos fabric, which officials said simplifies programmable across virtual and physical networks.
In addition, the vCenter integration enables users to use the fabric controller for greater visibility into virtual machines (VMs). The Big Cloud Fabric also supports vSphere-based clouds that leverage OpenStack for orchestration.
Other new capabilities include the Fabrics Analytics module, which processes aggregated logs and statistics to more quickly give customers greater insight into their networks and show trends and identify events. Fabric-wide configuration changes—such as CLI, GUI or REST API—can be seen directly in the controller to identify inappropriate access and detect problems caused by the misconfiguration of the network.
Big Cloud Fabric now also supports CloudStack and Citrix Systems’ CloudPlatform for cloud environments, adding to its previous support of OpenStack for Red Hat and Mirantis as well as 40G leaf switches.
Big Switch and Dell also are expanding a partnership that started last year with the OEM’s support of Big Switch’s Big Tap Monitoring Fabric on its Dell Open Networking switches. Dell now also will support Big Cloud Fabric on such switches as the S6000-ON and other Open Networking switches in the future. Dell’s Open Networking initiative is designed to create a white-box-like situation by enabling third-party networking software to run on its open switches. Dell has similar partnerships with Cumulus Networks and network virtualization vendor Midokura.
Big Switch Network Fabric Supports Dell Switches, VMware
Juniper Networks, in December 2014, unveiled the OCX1100 switch, which similarly offers an open design, based on designs from the Open Compute Project, that can run Juniper’s own Junos operating system.
With their open networking gear, Dell and Juniper are filling a gap between traditional, integrated networking gear from the likes of Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard and low-cost white boxes that bring their own challenges around such issues as support and integration. It’s an area that Gartner analysts are calling “brite boxes”—hardware from brand-name companies that come with support but are open to third-party technologies.
In a post on the Gartner blog in November 2014, analyst Andrew Lerner said brite-box networks could be disruptive, given that by 2018, 10 percent of data center ports shipped will be nontraditional switching, up from 4 percent last year.
“The financial and functional gap between White-Box and traditional switching has opened the door for new approaches and new market entrants,” Lerner wrote. “These new approaches aim to ‘split the difference’ between white-box and traditional switching, making it more palatable to bring hyperscale switching concepts to the mainstream.”
Big Switch CEO Doug Murray told eWEEK that a growing number of customers are looking for the economics of white boxes, but also want the logo and support that come with branded systems. It’s a trend Murray expects to continue to grow.
“There will be an increased shift to branded boxes and brite boxes,” he said, pointing to the efforts by Dell and Juniper and noting that for most hardware makers offering open networking gear makes sense. “If you’re not Cisco, you don’t have much to lose.”
Under Murray’s direction, for more than a year, Big Switch has shifted its focus away from its initial network overlay plans and toward network software running on commodity systems. The move is starting to pay off, he and Holzrichter said. The company has had four consecutive quarters of more than 30 percent growth and now has its first two customer deals worth more than $1 million each.