NoviFlow, Plexxi Latest Startups to Join SDN Market

The companies roll out their first products as they look for a foothold in a market that includes the likes of Cisco, HP, Juniper and VMware.

NoviFlow and Plexxi are the latest startups in the increasingly competitive market cropping up around software-defined networks, with both vendors coming out of stealth mode this month with products that include switches designed for SDNs.

NoviFlow on Dec. 4 unveiled the NoviKit 100, a switch that officials said fully supports OpenFlow 1.1 and can hit speeds of up to 100 gigabits per second (Gbps). NoviFlow officials are hoping to take advantage of the growing interest in SDNs to gain a foothold in the nascent market, which is seeing an increasing number of offerings from established networking vendors and startups alike.

A day later, Plexxi officials announced the first two products in what they say will be a complete SDN system. The company rolled out Plexxi Control, server-based software designed to ensure appropriate network connectivity for workloads, and the Plexxi Switch 1, which offers low-latency 10 Gigabit Ethernet and 40GbE connections and interconnects with other Plexxi switches through the company's LightRail optical interface.

Legacy hardware-based networks can't meet the demands of modern workloads, according to Plexxi CEO David Husak.

"Big data, mobile and XaaS are bringing on new application connectivity requirements and more intense workloads at an accelerating pace," Husak said in a statement. "Legacy network switching architectures cannot respond to application needs. Networking doesn't have to be this hard or frustrating. With 97 percent of the cost and complexity invested in today's networks providing zero value, Plexxi is on a mission to replace this mess with a complete SDN system for the data center—designed from the ground up—that makes networking simple, efficient and transparent."

With SDNs, the goal essentially is to take many of the networking tasks currently performed on expensive pieces of hardware and do them instead through software instead. Doing so moves the intelligence in the network—such as directing traffic to minimizing latency to security—from switches and routers to software-based controllers. The result are networks that are higher performing, more flexible, dynamic and scalable, and less expensive.

SDNs are viewed as a natural step in the increasing virtualization in data centers, as server virtualization becomes commonplace and the adoption of storage virtualization technology grows.

Established networking players like Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Juniper Networks and Extreme Networks are making a push into the SDN space, while startups like Big Switch Networks and Adara are building businesses around the concept. Software-defined networking also is driving acquisitions in the networking industry, including by companies that have no real networking business to speak of but want to build out their data center solutions portfolios. VMware bought SDN startup Nicira for $1.26 billion, while Oracle soon after grabbed Xsigo. Brocade in November bought Vyatta to build out its SDN offerings.

NoviFlow officials said their NoviKit 100 switch is aimed at companies that already are embracing SDNs and want a high-speed (up to 100Gbps), OpenFlow-based switch. The OpenFlow standard is the foundational technology behind much of the current SDN efforts. The NoviKit 100 also is powered by the NP-4 Network Processor platform EZchip Semiconductor, which NoviFlow officials said will make it easier for their switch to be upgraded to support future versions of OpenFlow.

NoviKit 100 can be easily installed via a 1.5U stand-alone or rack-mounted box, which offers expansion options with modular 1Gbps and 10Gbps ports, and features a Command Line Interface configuration.

"OpenFlow has proven itself in real-world SDN deployments by leading companies such as Google," NoviFlow President and CEO Dominique Jodoin said in a statement. "Now, we're giving OpenFlow a high-performance boost."

Jodoin noted the importance of the company's use of the EZchip processor technology.

"General-purpose CPUs are great for many applications, but today's major data center operators demand switching solutions with genuine wire-speed performance," he said. "At NoviFlow, we combine the benefits of virtualization and programmability with processors that can handle complex network flows to make it possible for data centers to keep up with today's exponentially growing networking demand."

Plexxi officials said their SDN system is based on what they called the concept of Affinity Networking—the idea that servers, storage equipment and networking devices, both physical and virtual, must be directly connected to each other, and work together in groups, exhibiting an "affinity" to each other. In such environments, network resources are not automatically distributed evenly to all devices in the network, but rather proportionally to these "affinity groups," they said.

Through such an environment, networking capabilities are distributed dynamically to where they are needed and optimized for the workload via a flexible and scalable infrastructure. Plexxi officials said their technology is particularly useful in such environments as cloud computing and virtualized infrastructures, where such automation and flexibility is key.

The vendor is looking to differentiate itself from larger, traditional networking companies through what officials said is a complete SDN system. Where traditional vendors put an SDN layer atop legacy hardware, Plexxi is offering SDN software (Plexxi Control) in less complex hardware (Plexxi Switch 1), interconnected through the patent-pending LightRail interconnect, they said.