Big Switch’s Switch Light Aims To Drive OpenFlow Adoption

Big Switch’s open source switching platform is aimed at making it easier for businesses to adopt software-defined networking using switches based on commodity hardware

Big Switch Networks officials are preparing an open-source thin switching platform that will bring software-defined networking capabilities and the OpenFlow controller protocol to “white-box” switches and virtualised data centre environments.

Big Switch, one of a growing number of startups in the burgeoning SDN space, is unveiling its Switch Light platform, a commercial offering based on the Indigo Project that is part of the larger open-source SDN community’s Project Floodlight.

OpenFlow push

Switch Light, which will be generally available in the second half of the year, can be used as a virtual switch for virtualisation hypervisors in servers or in physical switches that use commodity merchant silicon, according to company officials.

NetworkThe goals of Switch Light, which was announced on 26 March, is to push the adoption of the OpenFlow protocol in data centres while giving enterprises alternatives to what Big Switch officials said are historically proprietary and closed networking architectures.

It also is designed to encourage businesses to adopt Big Switch’s own Open SDN Suite, a set of offerings rolled out in November 2012 that includes a network controller, a virtual switch and a network monitoring tool.

“In making our open-source thin switching platform available to the market, we aim to accelerate the development of OpenFlow-based switches, both through ODM and OEM partners, thereby catalysing the deployment of OpenFlow networks,” Big Switch chief executive Guido Appenzeller said in a statement. “Customers are demanding choice in Open SDN hardware and want to unite their physical and virtual platforms. Switch Light is an important step down that path.”

SDNs offer the promise of more flexible, scalable and programmable networks moving the network intelligence out of expensive and complex hardware – such as switches and routers – and into software-based controllers.

Established networking vendors such as Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Juniper Networks are finding themselves competing with startups like Big Switch, Embrane and Plexxi in defining what SDNs will be.

Booming market

At the same time, tech companies like VMware and Oracle are looking to add SDN capabilities – through acquisitions – to their portfolios.

It is expected to quickly become a booming market. IDC analysts in December 2012 predicted that SDN-related revenues will reach $360 million (£237m) this year and will grow to $3.7 billion by 2016.

Big Switch’s Switch Light offering will give enterprises options when deciding whether to go with SDN offerings from big vendors such as Cisco and HP or to opt for less-expensive alternatives.

It also could be particularly attractive to companies like Google and Amazon, which run massive data centres and have often opted for white-box server makers to help drive down capital and operational costs.

Such web-based companies also are interested in improving network performance while keeping costs in check. Being able to bring in commodity white-box switches that support SDN and OpenFlow could be an attractive option.

Big Switch officials said they already are working with partners to get Switch Light into the market. When they unveiled their Open SDN Suite last fall, company executives touted the range of partners they had for the products, including Cisco, Dell, Extreme Networks, Juniper, Microsoft and F5 Networks.

With Switch Light, Big Switch already is working with Broadcom in the merchant silicon space, and ODMs Accton and Quanta for merchant silicon-based switches. In addition, Extreme Networks officials said they will support Switch Light as part of their Open Fabric architecture.

New SDN switch reference architecture

The company announced on 26 March that it is adopting a new reference architecture for SDN switches, the first of which will be a switch called Slalom. The reference architecture is based on Switch Light and merchant silicon, and Slalom will be an SDN-optimised switch supporting Switch Light, with Extreme adding its own global service, support and deployment capabilities.

Extreme in February announced it was supporting OpenFlow in the release of ExtremeXOS 15.3 – its networking operating system – and by adopting the SDN applications from Big Switch, including the Big Tap monitoring software and Big Virtual Switch.

“Extreme Networks Open Fabric is designed to offer customers an open and broad portfolio of next-generation data centre networking solutions that support emerging SDN solutions in hardware and software,” Extreme President and chief executive Oscar Rodriguez said in a statement. “Providing customers with the widest amount of choice and performance for their networks is what reduces their costs and helps them scale.”

In addition to working with partners, Big Switch also will make Switch Light available for free to commercial customers who also use the company’s Big Network Controller, Big Virtual Switch or Big Tap. Big Switch will offer services and technical support.

Switch Light currently is in early access with some customers, and will be offered in a limited beta release in June before being generally released in the second half of the year. It also will be available as a free download at that time.

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Originally published on eWeek.