Embrane Looks to Make Noise in Growing SDN Market

Embrane wraps up two new customers as CEO Dante Malagrino says the company will be more vocal in 2013 about its SDN services.

During the first three or so years after co-founding Embrane in 2009, Dante Malagrino was content to let the startup fly under the radar while rivals large and small scrambled to begin pulling together the pieces of their software-defined networking strategies.

Much of the initial focus of established players such as Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard, as well as startups such as Big Switch Networks and Nicira—now owned by VMware—has been on the Layer 1-2 access layer, leveraging the OpenFlow protocol and other technologies to make the data center network more flexible and programmable, according to Malagrino, Embrane’s CEO.

Malagrino and other Embrane officials decided instead to focus higher up the stack, to Layers 3-7, where the virtual services that will run atop the SDN infrastructure live. These services include load balancers and firewalls that help organizations and service providers bring more flexibility, rapid provisioning, programmability and security to their networks. Without these services, the promises of greater agility that SDNs promise could not happen, he told eWEEK in a recent interview.

And now, with its heleos SDN software platform in place and rivals rolling out their own SDN applications, Embrane executives will be more vocal going forward, Malagrino said.

“You can see how many companies are trying to move up the stack … and closer to applications,” he said. “We’re taking the gloves off a little bit. … We’re going to be much more explicit about” what’s happening in the market.

And SDN is a booming market. IDC analysts expect revenue in the software-defined networking space to grow from $360 million this year to $3.7 billion by 2016. SDNs hold the promise of creating more flexible, dynamic, scalable and programmable networks by taking much of the networking intelligence off complex and expensive switches and routers and onto software-based controllers.

There’s a lot happening in the space, with established players like Cisco, HP and Juniper Networks staking out their strategies while the smaller vendors push their initiatives. The market also is seeing some consolidation, with VMware last year buying Nicira for $1.26 billion, followed closely by Oracle grabbing Xsigo. Juniper in December 2012 bought Contrail Systems for $176 million, and Intel in February invested $6.5 million in Big Switch Networks.

OpenFlow has been an early emphasis for many vendors, with many enabling products to support the open-source protocol. However, there has been rapid expansion beyond OpenFlow over the past year. Martin Casado, CTO of Nicira and an early OpenFlow developer, caused a stir in the industry in December when he told journalists in Boston that he was wrong about OpenFlow, and that it’s the virtual switches in hypervisors that offer the best option for creating more programmable networks and handle such functions as security, billing and inventory, tasks traditionally done in hardware.

Other vendors, such as Juniper and Dell, are looking beyond OpenFlow and controllers as they expand their SDN efforts, and are making that move up the application stack that Embrane’s Malagrino talked about. For example, F5 Networks is making a push into the Layer 3-7 application tiers with its acquisition in February of LineRate Systems, into areas such as security, acceleration, optimization and traffic management.