Dell Brings Midokura's SDN Into Open Networking Effort

The tech vendor will now offer third-party software from Cumulus, Big Switch and Midokura on its bare-metal open switches.

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Dell is expanding its open networking initiative by adding network virtualization vendor Midokura to its growing list of partners.

Dell will offer Midokura's Enterprise MidoNet network virtualization overlay solution on both its networking hardware lineup and its x86 servers, a move that company officials said will enable enterprises and service providers to more easily build OpenStack-based cloud networking infrastructures.

In addition, Dell will offer a solution that includes its Open Networking switches combined with MidoNet and Cumulus Networks' Linux operating system, giving customers a way to quickly provision and extend scalable networks to physical workloads, an important step toward what many vendors are calling the software-defined data center (SDDC).

The Midokura partnership is the latest in Dell's Open Networking initiative, which the company launched earlier this year with its partnership with Cumulus and expanded later with a similar partnership with Big Switch Networks. Through the effort, Dell is disaggregating the networking software from the underlying hardware, giving enterprises and service providers the choice of software they want to run atop Dell's networking gear.

It dovetails with what the software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV) trends enable in the networking space. Through SDN and NFV, the network control plane and network tasks—including load balancing and firewalls—are taken from the networking gear and put into software, where they can run on commodity hardware like switches and servers rather than the more complex and expensive switches and routers from the likes of Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks.

The result is networks that are much more scalable, programmable and agile than conventional infrastructures, but that also are more cost-efficient. Organizations get networks that enable them to more quickly spin out new services and products and respond to changing customer demands. These networks also cost less.

However, running networks on top of boxes comes with its own challenges around such issues as integration and support, which is scaring businesses away from the idea, according to Gartner analysts. Gartner is now following another approach that the analysts have dubbed "brite-box switching," which sits in between traditional, integrated switches from the likes of Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard and white boxes.

In brite-box environments, switch vendor let their software run on white-box hardware or let other vendors' software run on their hardware—what Dell is doing with Cumulus and Big Switch—according to Gartner analyst Andrew Lerner. In addition, infrastructure software vendors like VMware and Microsoft certify hardware switches for their software and operating systems, or system integrators combine the hardware and software, then deliver it to the customer.

In a post on the Gartner blog last month, 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.

In a Webcast event Dec. 11, Cumulus CEO JR Rivers said enterprises have been slow to embrace SDN in any meaningful way. However, that's beginning to change, and Dell's efforts to decouple the hardware and software will help drive the market forward.

"What we're seeing in the market is the technology is becoming more and more mature and customers are beginning to adopt the networking technology," Rivers said.