As Big Switch Networks Joins SDN Market CIOs Should Plan Infrastructure for Next Generation Technology

While Nicira has received the majority of the media attention lately thanks to its acquisition by VMware just before VMworld earlier this autumn, it is not the only software-defined network (SDN) vendor in the market. The latest to ship a product, says Wikibon Network Guru Stuart Miniman in his latest Professional Alert, “Big Switch Networks Looks to Open the SDN Market”, is Big Switch Networks, which is now shipping its Big Network Controller. It joins Nicira and NEC as vendors shipping SDN software, while Cisco, IBM, and HP have announced upcoming products expected to enter the market next year.

Big Switch’s controller differentiates in the market by being fully API-compatible with the open-source Floodlight controller. This makes it easier for early adaptors to do a sandbox SDN using Floodlight and then switch to the more full-featured Big Switch controller for the production system.

Today the SDN ecosystem is not yet ready for most organizations, even large enterprises. SDN early adopters, Miniman says, are the large telcos, service providers, and financial companies with the budget to do green field system development and the immediate need for the advantages of SDN.

The most important of these immediately, he says, is that by automating much of the lower level technical control work and moving large amounts of information and control to the network edge, SDN makes it possible for data center administrators, rather than deep domain experts, to manage large networks. Longer term, SDNs also support network applications, which will become the source of much of their value. These advantages mean that mass adoption is only a matter of time and market development.

However, SDN does not replace the lower-level physical switches. Rather, it rides on top, using OpenFlow to interface with the physical and virtual switch infrastructure. The hardware vendors are only beginning to roll out OpenFlow-compatible switches. Big Switch has announced partnerships with Arista, Brocade, Dell, and Juniper for physical switching, and Microsoft, Citrix, and RedHat for virtual switching.

CIOs, says Miniman, should allow SDN to mature before starting pilots. Meanwhile they should start building the infrastructure by choosing foundational technologies such as OpenFlow-enabled switches and Data Center Ethernet Fabrics in their next network refresh cycle.

As with all Wikibon research, the full Alert, along with a video of Miniman discussing Big Switch Networks with Wikibon Chief Analyst David Vellante, is available publicly on the Wikibon site. IT professionals should register for free membership in Wikibon, which allows them to comment on research, contribute their own tips, Alerts. and white papers, post questions, and participate in the frequent Peer Incite meetings at which their peers will discuss their experiences with new solutions to their real issues.