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August 3, 2012
Midokura is a startup that says it's doing what Nicira Networks is doing, only for Layers 2 through 7. With a description like that, you wonder why VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) didn't buy these guys instead.
But then you find out Midokura has only three U.S. employees, and their office -- when they bother to use one -- is in an unused conference room inside a space leased by DreamHost, a Web hosting company. The connection? Ben Cherian, Midokura's chief strategy officer, used to work there.
Not quite the same as the clout of Nicira, which has the cachet of SDN luminaro Martin Casado and a founding team that did the original work on OpenFlow. (See VMware to Buy SDN Startup for More Than $1B and VMware Insists It's Not Warring With Cisco.)
Aside from some contributing work to OpenStack, Midokura has sailed under the radar. Most sources contacted by Light Reading (all of them in the United States, admittedly) had barely heard of the company, if at all.
But the company was founded in 2009, so it's not as if it's trying to cash in on the sudden SDN craze. Rather, Midokura reflects the depth of the data-center scaling problems that are helping SDN become so popular.
The Amazon of Japan
Cherian is not the face of a Japanese company. He's a bright-eyed, clear-spoken emissary of the Web 2.0 world, fitting comfortably in the hip San Francisco startup world.
And Midokura's U.S. arm is very much like a startup. The San Francisco team started out in a spare corner of a Rackspace facility, but as Rackspace grew, Midokura got squeezed out. Now they're working from home and borrowing space from Dreamhost, Cherian's former employer. "We're cloud couch-hoppers," Cherian says.
Midokura started out because founders Tatsuya Kato and Dan Mihai Dumitriu wanted to create the equivalent of Amazon Web Services Inc. for Japan. But in planning out the company, they realized that the biggest roadblock was going to be the network.
Amazon isn't telling how it got around those problems. Without a simple guidebook to copy, Midokura's team decided they would tackle the problem of network scaling and make that the company, selling a platform to cloud providers.
Dumitriu provided some of the necessary background. He went to Cornell and worked at Reliable Network Solutions -- and at Amazon. Working from that background in distributed systems, he decided to assemble a team to tackle the problems of network scaling.
To cite one specific but overused example -- Layer 2 VLANs are great for connecting one virtual machine to another, but you're limited to using 4,096 of them. Technologies such as QinQ purport to fix that, but then other problems come up. "Where do you end up trunking those QinQ things? Do you end up trunking everything on every machine? You end up with a very complex networking arrangement," Cherian says.
The company has raised $5.8 million from Japanese venture capitalists -- Sunbridge Partners is the only one listed on Midokura's website -- and other investors. It's raising another round that could help double the head count, to 40, Cherian says.
Reaching Layer 7
Midokura's product, still not in 1.0 version yet, is called the Midonet. It's software, distributed among a data center's servers, can create a virtual switch or firewall or any other network element without changing the physical network.
Those network elements target Layers 2 through 7, and that scope is unusual, Cherian claims. Nicira is working at Layer 2 and isn't working on Layer 3 yet, although Cherian predicts that will change with the help of VMware. Embrane Inc. is creating virtual network elements for Layers 4 through 7 -- SDN-based firewalls and load balancers, for instance -- but doesn't include the switching and routing of Layers 2 and 3.
One catch: Midokura hasn't only gotten to Layers 2 through 4 so far. "Midonet 1.0 will be a polished version of what we do today. It might include Layer 7. Our team is working hard to figure that out," Cherian says.
For now, though, Midokura is "very much like Nicira, pushing the ability to go up in the stack," says Dante Malagrino, CEO of Embrane. He adds that Embrane's customers in the U.S. or Europe haven't ever mentioned Midokura.
Midokura is making some progress in Japan, though. It's gotten revenue from some proof-of-concept projects, including one with NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT), Cherian says.
— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading
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