Intel Gets Inside SDN With Big Switch Networks


Big Switch Networks, an early player in software-defined networking (SDN) that came out of stealth last year, has just received a $20 million cash infusion from Intel Capital in its latest venture capital funding round.

This means that the world’s biggest chip maker joins the likes of Goldman Sachs, Khosla Ventures, Redpoint Ventures and Index Ventures in backing the startup, bringing the amount of cash in its war chest up to $45 million to date.

Big Switch is one of the most interesting new players in the SDN world – a space that is rapidly evolving and illustrating how the humble data center is slowly transforming into a fully programmable computer that can be managed much more easily than a jumbled up network of cables, big boxes and switches. The aim of SDN is to shift the chore of managing large computer networks from proprietary boxes to general-purpose server systems–– namely, to make networks as easy to set up, configure and expand as virtual servers in the cloud, simply by using software. And now, Intel is throwing its considerable weight behind SDN.

Its reasons are selfish of course. Once of the key elements of SDN is the shift to general purpose server systems, away from proprietary boxes. Now it just so happens that Intel’s standard microprocessor powers these server systems, so by backing Big Switch it automatically finds a new customer for its chips. In addition, Intel will also be able to sell communications chips for the physical connections that are needed to send data back and forth between servers.

By backing SDN, Intel will secure a much larger chunk of the money thrown at data centers, which are largely dominated by  hardware firms like Cisco and juniper Networks. And it’s looking more and more likely that SDN will take off in a very big way soon, given that it offers customers a way of avoiding being ‘locked in’ with software and hardware that’s associated with a specific vendor, together with greatly reduced labor costs.

Most would agree that it’s not really a question of if, but when SDN will take off. There are big stakes at play here, and the winner will likely be the first to come up with a solution that mixes SDN with the older physical networks that enterprises have splunked millions on and can’t justify throwing away just yet. Big Switch is an interesting bet because its networking technology is based upon the OpenFlow standard, which has caught the eye of net giants like Google before now.

However, we also can’t rule out the traditional players. Don’t forget that VMware shelled out $1.2 billion for SDN startup Nicira just last year, while Cisco, which once derided OpenFlow and SDN, has also begun making some aggressive moves in that direction.