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SDN Switches Get a Wave of Support

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto
4/22/2013
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Much has been made of OpenFlow's potential to free up the switching market. Operators could theoretically stop using specialty switches -- the Cisco Systems Inc., Juniper Networks Inc. and Alcatel-Lucent types -- and instead go for those based on off-the-shelf Ethernet chips. Naturally, the chip industry is rushing to take avantage of this. Plenty of news in and around last week's Open Networking Summit involved these switches -- either commodity white boxes, or higher-end systems that have been based on Broadcom Corp. chips. In most cases, we're talking less about actual switches and more about reference designs -- prefab kits that someone, say, at an original design manufacturer (ODM) in Taiwan could use to quickly bring a switch to market. Big Switch Networks had already announced Switch Light, its open-source reference platform. Here's a rundown of chipmakers and some more software-minded vendors that also showcased switch platforms last week. Intel
The big news out of the show was announced in Wednesday's keynote by Rose Schooler, vice president of the Intel Architecture group at, you know, Intel Corp. Creatively named the Open Network Platform (ONP) Switch Reference Design, it's part of Intel's growing effort to challenge Broadcom in the switching market. The design takes advantage of two Intel acquisitions. The switching chip at the heart of the design is the FM6700, which originated with Fulcrum Microsystems, and the design also includes embedded software from Wind River Systems. It's intended as a top-of-rack switch, the kind that handles all the switching for one data-center rack and, in traditional setups, feeds into an aggregation router. The first production box using the design will be the T3048-IZ1 from Taiwanese manufacturer Quanta Computer Inc., Schooler said. Intel also extended its data plane development kit (DPDK) software to support Open vSwitch virtual switches and announced an ONP server reference design that will be available in the second half of 2013. Centec
The V350 switch reference design from Centec Networks (Su Zhou) Co. Ltd. won the SDN Idol competition at ONS, a kind of interactive best-in-show competition. It beat out Big Switch's Switch Light as well as security demos from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Radware Ltd. and the NTT Communications Corp. Global Enterprise Cloud. Novelty might have helped; Centec is a competitor to Broadcom in Ethernet switching chips, but a distant competitor. It's only now, with a third-generation chip line called GreatBelt, that Centec has a product on par with Broadcom's and at a lower price, CEO James Sun candidly admits. His hope is that GreatBelt can help fuel a generation of white-box switches. Netronome
The NFP-6000 network processor was introduced in May 2012, with availability slated for mid-2013 -- in other words, right about now. Netronome announced a US$19 million round of funding Thursday, to help ramp production. The round was led by DFJ Esprit and also included Intel Capital, Raptor Group and Sourcefire. Yeah, we're kind of cheating here. Netronome's reference design around the NFP-6000 was announced in March, although it was also on display at ONS. The point is that there's potential competition coming from switches based on network processors -- chips more complex and more flow-oriented than your usual microprocessor. The Linley Group had anointed the chip its own category for Netronome's chip: flow processor. "We've been working on what we consider to be a superset of OpenFlow for seven or eight years," Director of Product Management Daniel Proch said at a Linley Group conference in October. Netronome's closest rival among chipmakers would be EZchip Technologies Ltd. -- and guess what, there's an SDN box designed around that company's chip, too. NoviFlow
NoviFlow Inc. doesn't consider itself a switch vendor, even though its appliance can be a switch, one that runs on OpenFlow 1.3 on an EZchip NP4 network processor. What the box really does is execute a variety of functions on the processor. NoviFlow considers itself a software company; its NoviVision virtualization technology is a hypervisor that partitions the EZchip processor to run virtual instances of any packet-based function. So, it's something of a network functions virtualization (NFV) play. NoviFlow spun out of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) last year, having helped demonstrate the first OpenFlow 1.1 switch in 2011. At ONS, the company announced OpenFlow 1.3 support on its NoviSwitch systems. Network processors are complex beasts. NoviFlow and Netronome are targeting higher-end switches rather than commodity boxes. Pica8
In December, Pica8 Inc. announced its SDN reference design, which included a Pica8 white-box switch outfitted with OpenFlow 1.2 and virtual-switch software. Last week, it added management and provisioning features, fleshing out what the company now calls the Open Data Center Framework. That step came out of customer experimentation with the reference design, says Steve Garrision, vice president of product marketing. "We've got the football analogy (first down) and the swimming analogy (toe in the water)," Garrison says. "We want to show everybody the water's fine." For more
Other coverage in, around and about ONS:

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading
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@mbushong
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@mbushong,
User Rank: Moderator
4/30/2013 | 5:54:36 PM
re: SDN Switches Get a Wave of Support
I like that you are looking at the hardware side a bit. A lot of this gets lost because of the S in SDN, but there has to be some devices on which SDN runs. I personally think Intel could be the big winner in all of this; the stuff they are doing with OVS is pretty exciting.

Ultimately, I think the SDN pie will be massive (as much as $35B on the aggressive side based on work we did with SDN Central: http://www.plexxi.com/2013/04/.... It only makes sense for some of that pie to be consumed by some of the hardware guys.

It will be particularly interesting to see if any shifts in market share on the chip side lead to different economics (lower volumes would drive price per unit up).

Mike Bushong
@mbushong
Craig Matsumoto
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Craig Matsumoto,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/22/2013 | 6:24:51 PM
re: SDN Switches Get a Wave of Support
Centec is an interesting case - tiny company taking on Broadcom. We wrote about them in 2011. They think they've finally got the technical chops to compete, but now they have to make the market listen... and in the meantime, Intel has bought Fulcrum and gotten back into switching too.

That 2011 story is here: http://www.lightreading.com/et...
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