Light Reading

6 SDN Startups to Watch

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto

With Nicira Networks Inc. getting acquired by VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW), who's left in the software-defined networking (SDN) startup world? (See VMware to Buy SDN Startup for More Than $1B and VMware Insists It's Not Warring With Cisco.)

Given the popularity of SDN as a buzzword, it seems inevitable that a host of small companies will start calling themselves "SDN." Below are a few that have crossed Light Reading's path and seem worth keeping an eye on.

We've allowed the boundaries of "SDN" to stretch a little; you'll find a couple of cloud-networking companies in here that might or might not count, depending on your definitions. Rather than quibble, we'll suggest you use the message boards to tell us who doesn't belong and who we've left out.

Big Switch Networks
Floodlight has become the top OpenFlow controller on the market, in large part because Big Switch Networks seems to be partnered with everybody. Often mentioned in the same breath with Nicira, and likewise staffed with some of the Stanford University students who'd helped create OpenFlow, Big Switch is now the big name among independent SDN companies.

Most of the SDN attention has gone to Layer 2, where OpenFlow resides, and Layer 3, which is an obvious next target for OpenFlow or a similar protocol. Embrane Inc. wants to work at Layers 4 through 7, creating virtual appliances on the fly -- things like firewalls or load balancers. Bonus tidbit: Founders including CEO Dante Malagrino come from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) spin-ins Andiamo and Nuovo and now are (maybe) competing with Cisco's SDN spin-in, Insieme.

Back in 2006, we wrote about Vyatta Inc. putting routing software onto plain servers. Voila -- generic router! Now, Vyatta has shifted to a role helping create network connections between virtual machines. One selling point is that direct east/west connections between virtual machines can be created, as opposed to "tromboning" -- sending the traffic out to a router and back.

Vyatta's age (founded in 2005) makes the "startup" moniker debatable, and the company does describe itself as being about managing virtualization more than about full-blown SDN. "We're not trying to get the network to do programmatic backflips yet," CEO Kelly Herrell says.

Before the SDN craze kicked in, ConteXtream was talking about applying grid-networking techniques to the cloud. ConteXtream's software, ingeniously named Grid, creates a fabric that connects any network element to any other. The result is a programmable overlay on top of the data-center network.

Because PlumGrid Inc. isn't even giving hints about its technology yet, it's easy to pass it off as a bandwagon-hopper. But its team has been contemplating and even developing SDN ideas for about seven years. CEO Awais Nemat was in charge of the switch-chip division at Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL), and CTO Pere Monclus and Director of Product Management Valentina Alaria worked on OpenFlow while at Cisco.

Probably the least well-known company on this list, Midokura started examining the potential for SDN in 2009. It's based in Japan, where SDN has a strong grip on the industry's collective consciousness and a big-name backer in NTT. Midokura's claim to fame will be the ability to create virtual appliances for Layers 2 through 7 -- overlapping the target markets of Nicira and Embrane, in a sense.

For more

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:24:04 PM
re: 6 SDN Startups to Watch


Interesting post. You've obviously been keeping close tabs on this area.

I'm guessing these companies are mostly VC funded?




User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:24:03 PM
re: 6 SDN Startups to Watch
You left off Plexxi who is really interesting and absolutely belongs on this list.
User Rank: Lightning
12/5/2012 | 5:24:02 PM
re: 6 SDN Startups to Watch

Actually the list is pretty darn long, with the broader context in the article, such as..

* Pluribus

* Plexxi

* Contrail

* Pertino

* vArmor

* and the few under stealth mode which would come up this year and early next year.

and this does not include the SDN or SDN-like projects in bigger companies like Cisco, Juniper, HP,  Dell, Oracle, Microsofts etc. 

What is the market timing for these companies to get real business?

User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 5:23:59 PM
re: 6 SDN Startups to Watch

What is the market timing for these companies to get real business?

Welcome to silly valley, where "investors" chase the hot buzzword of the day.  SDN was a hot term two decades ago in the phone business, if anyone has a long memory; it's funny to hear it again in context of OpenFlow.

Software-based routers like Vyatta, Imagestream and MikroTik, make a lot of senes.  They are getting faster as standard chips improve, and cost far less than Ciscos of equivalent power.  They don't reach the high end yet, but cover more and more ground.  It'll be interesting to see how MikroTik's Cloud Core Router works out, using its Linux-derived RouterOS on a 36-core Tilera CPU.

I've heard some reasons to doubt OpenFlow, though. It should be fine in a data center.  But by moving the control away from the switch, it adds latency, so it could impair performance of wide-area networks.  Let's see how that works out once it's past beta.  At this stage it's just a lot of VCs at the race track while the horses are walking towards the starting gate.

Pete Baldwin
Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:23:53 PM
re: 6 SDN Startups to Watch

Thanks for the extra list, big_thinker.  I probably should have added vArmour. Something about them being security focused made them feel like a different, even newer category somehow. (I'm now thinking otherwise. Never said this was a scientific process.) I'll admit I haven't heard of some of the others, so I've got some catching up to do.

The list was specifically for startups, so no, I didn't include any of the activities at the larger companies. (That includes Insieme.) If I did, it would basically be a list of everyone in networking!

User Rank: Lightning
12/5/2012 | 5:23:34 PM
re: 6 SDN Startups to Watch

You are welcome craig.  there is an interesting one i missed.  its cummulus from former googlers.    they are low-key but focused on selling.  among large companies, you can also add alu ipd.  they are also tip-toeing.

some companies have gotten focused on intense marketing, way before they have anything meaningful. one such company on your list is plumgrid.  word on the street is that one of their key founders and chief-architect & developer, michael smith, recently left to join inseimi due to issues with their product goals.

i am tracking this landscape for over few years and am happy to add 2 cents...

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