SDN: Experimental networking tech gets a commercial boost

The software-defined networking suite from Big Switch Networks gives admins access to OpenFlow-based technology for increasing network efficiency and is backed by Microsoft, Citrix and other major IT companies.
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

A new technology for tackling networking problems was given a commercial boost on Tuesday, when startup Big Switch Networks pushed out a major software-defined networking product suite.

The Open Software-Defined Networking product suite was launched by Big Switch Networks on Tuesday, alongside with a large set of partners including Microsoft, Citrix, Dell, F5 and Juniper Networks.

The new products — the Big Network Controller, the Big Tap monitoring tool and the Big Virtual Switch - allow network administrators to cram more virtual machines onto servers. They do this by increasing the efficiency of the overall network and giving the servers advanced monitoring capabilities, the Palo Alto-based company said.

Software-defined networking (SDN) is causing disruption in the networking industry, as it lets businesses move many networking features off expensive networking gear and onto cheap servers. It goes hand in hand with virtualisation as a key technology for making efficient, easily configurable private and public clouds.

"SDN is the most disruptive and transformative trend to hit the networking industry in over 20 years," Guido Appenzeller, the chief executive and co-founder of Big Switch Networks, said in a statement.

For example, SDN allows businesses to change the structure of a network via its software, without having to move physical equipment around. It also gives admins greater insight into a network's traffic flow, meaning they can spot and remedy bottlenecks earlier, as well as letting them avoid proprietary networking technologies.

OpenFlow savvy

The fundamental technology beneath Big Switch Networks's suite is the OpenFlow network communications protocol — something the company knows a lot about, given that Appenzeller led the Stanford University team that developed the first version of the protocol.

OpenFlow technology lets servers communicate with networking equipment, making it possible to hive off some network gear duties to servers, allowing for both cost savings and more efficient, flexible network structures.

The Big Network Controller is an application platform that communicates with OpenFlow software switches embedded in hypervisors and OpenFlow-compatible network interface cards (NIC). This allows admins to use advanced software tools to manage both the physical and the virtual network.

The Big Tap has monitoring capabilities for an SDN, while the Big Virtual Switch helps create and manage the physical network.

Big Switch Networks's main SDN competitor is Nicira, which was acquired by VMware in the summer for over a billion dollars.

However, Nicira's products are designed to manage virtual networks rather than physical ones, giving Big Switch Networks an edge in terms of the breadth of IT environments it can cover.

All the OSDN suite products are available now, Big Switch Networks said, but did not specify in which regions. Pricing for the Network Controller start at $1,700 a month, while Big Tap begins at $500 and Big Virtual Switch at $4,200.

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