Four-year-old Big Switch finally introduced its flagship product, the Big Cloud Fabric, following a long and winding road that included a change of CEO and a shift in strategic direction.
The Big Cloud Fabric is a "unified virtual and physical switching fabric," according to CEO Doug Murray, who took the helm in November last year and brought in a new management team. It's a pod of rack-mounted commodity or Dell switches controlled by centralized SDN controllers designed to allow carriers and enterprises to deploy SDN without having to rip and replace their entire networks. (See Big Switch Poaches Sales VP From Juniper, Big Switch Names New CEO, and Murray Leads Big Switch Into Bare Metal Battle.)
The Big Cloud Fabric uses Big Switch Networks ' Switch Light OS on bare metal switches from partners CTC, Net One Systems Co. Ltd. , and Dell Technologies (Nasdaq: DELL). Switch Light will also run on virtual switches, such as the Microsoft Hyper-V, Linux KVM, KVM, and VMWare ESX.
"You set up the controller and put it on a pair of servers for high availability -- that's optional, but suggested -- and then you add switches," Murray says. "You program the controller what the rules are to run the fabric, and it auto-provisions the switches. If both controllers go down, the network continues to operate."
The product addresses one of SDN's biggest drawbacks: The promised benefits are big, but so are the costs of replacing installed networking equipment from the likes of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), along with the associated networking software, with new technology. In addition, the benefits are hard to quantify and describe ahead of time, and because pure SDN requires replacing the entire network, it's difficult to scope out a proof-of-concept or pilot program. (See How NFV Gets a Foot in the Door for SDN.)
The Big Switch Fabric is designed to allow carriers and enterprises to try out SDN by deploying it for a new OpenStack, Hadoop, or remote desktop service. That gives customers a chance to test SDN for a local installation of a single app, and then deploy it wider if it pays off.
"We're going after cases where people are doing new things with the network," Murray says. "By doing it use-case by use-case, we have wins with customers, we publish the use cases, and that helps us build out our business."
Big Switch allows customers to deploy SDN in complete racks, rather than assemble software, switches, and other equipment from multiple vendors. "Instead of having an SDN erector set, SDN is productized," Murray says.
Big Cloud Fabric is available to order today, and will ship by September.
When I wrote about Big Switch in February, Christian Renaud, an analyst with 451 Research, said the company suffered from being too far ahead of its time, launching an open SDN product suite in late 2012. (See Big Switch CEO: We're Not for Sale.)
In 2012, when you talked to most carrier executives about SDN, they just got confused.
Now, Big Switch has a message so simple even a CFO can understand it: Big Switch helps carriers and enterprises transform to "hyperscale networking." You know, like Google, and Facebook, and those other successful guys.
"Over the course of the last five years, the innovators of data center networking have largely been the hyperscale players, the Googles, Facebooks, Amazons and Microsofts of the world," Murray says. "These companies are taking bare metal switches and putting their own software on the switches -- they're delivering on the promise of what SDN started out for."
The initial direction for Big Switch was "overlay networks" -- adding a layer of software on top of existing network to deliver the benefits of SDN. But the company decided that was too complicated and impractical, so it retrenched, converting to a strategy it calls "P+V," for "Physical + Virtual." Big Switch offers SDN on commodity switches sold through partners running Big Switch's own Linux-based softare. (See Murray Leads Big Switch Into Bare Metal Battle.)
Big Switch claims to be one of only two companies in the networking industry using the concept of a controller running on both virtual and physical fabrics. "That's us and Cisco," Murray said. Cisco requires its Nexus-branded proprietary switches, but Big Switch runs on switches from multiple companies, Murray said, giving Big Switch the advantage of openness.
Also on Tuesday, Big Switch announced sales momentum, although it was frustratingly short on specifics. The company says its technology has been adopted across three regions -- Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) for one, as well as North American and Asia-Pacific, with customers in the financial industry, service providers, the federal government, and high-tech vendors.
Business doubled quarter-over-quarter in the second quarter, and Big Switch secured its first million-dollar customer in the first half of the year. Big Switch's largest customer is in production in 16 data centers around the world.
Big Switch achieved this momentum without its Dell partnership, which will go live in the third quarter. (See Open Season: Dell Taps Into Big Switch.)
In addition to the Big Cloud Fabric, Big Switch also introduced version 4 of its Big Tap, which directs traffic from a network to third-party network monitoring tools. Version 4 adds support for Dell and Accton Technology Corp. switches, which are based on the Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) Trident II. Big Tap Version 4 now supports data center tunnelling.