SDN Networking, Hyper Scale and NFV Startup Primer

Software defined networking (SDN) has helped companies worldwide separate and improve upon the hardware and software components of their often ineffective and inefficient networks. Network functions virtualization (NFV) is an alternative method to enhance a network’s performance by virtualizing the hardware and software of a network.

Instead of separating control and forwarding planes, as in SDNs, NFV optimizes the existing network services. NFV was developed out of frustration when trying to speed up deployment of new network services with hardware-based appliances. NFV uses standard IT virtualization technologies and encourages innovation and improves provisioning. When the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) was formed, according to sdxcentral.com, it created “the foundation of NFV’s basic requirements and architecture.”

Some reports indicate that SDNs will be mainstream around 2020 and the global SDN market will reach $11.5 Billion by 2020, including both open and proprietary SDN, but not NFV. Another estimate from a study done by Plexxi, SDN Central, and Lightspeed Ventures puts the SDN market at $35 billion by 2018 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 128 percent. The Global NFV Market, meanwhile, is estimated to experience an amazing compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 51.57 percent between 2013 and 2018. Though there are a few tech giants in this field, it is dominated by smaller, more innovative companies.

Big Switch Networks, in its predictions for 2016, stated that IoT and NFV will make networks so complex that programmable network control via SDNs will be a necessity. They also predicted that 15 percent or more of all ports shipped will be bare metal, at least 10 percent of Global 2000 organizations will deploy bare metal and/or SDN solutions, and “two or more publicly held networking vendors will embrace a modern approach that disaggregates hardware and software,” which Juniper Networks, Arista Networks, and Cisco Systems have just announced.

Pluribus Networks

Pluribus Networks was established in 2010 and has raised $97 million in venture capital funding. Pluribus has also been highly successful in gaining partnerships with the likes of Super Micro Computer and Red Hat to offer private or public cloud providers Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) with Micro-Blade servers, Red Hat’s OpenStack, and Pluribus’ Open Netvisor Linux. Pluribus offers a powerful, quick to deploy, and cost-effective technological infrastructure. Pluribus also has distribution of its product through Dell, and its Netvisor is integrated with Oracle Solaris 11 to form the Pluribus Freedom Server-Switch products.

Pluribus’ platform offers an open-source network hypervisor operating system with a fully programmable and virtualized network fabric for the cloud and data centers, virtualized switches, high degrees of agility, insight, security, and macro segmentation with complete flow-level visibility. Pluribus allows many choices for switches (including using the company’s own ONIE compliant switch), and its Virtualization-Centric Fabric architecture is scalable and controller-less. It has full Layer 2 and Layer 3 capabilities performing the same tasks more efficiently and at a lower cost.

Its Fabric Automation is auto-configuring and has programmatic control that is self-healing and scalable. The Fabric Virtualization has provisioning and workload mobility as well as “powerful macro- and micro-network segmentation, multi-tenancy and role-based access plus virtualized Layer 3 through Layer 7 network services.” Additionally, Netvisor’s Fabric Visibility offers forensic data recording, and the Freedom Series Leaf Switches and Freedom Series Spine Switches come with Netvisor pre-installed with advanced functionality available.

Big Switch Networks

Since 2010, Big Switch Networks has deployed its hyperscale networking to multiple Tier-1 mobile operators’ and Fortunate 100 financial enterprises’ data centers in Japan as well as many financial service centers, governments, service providers, higher education and technology enterprises worldwide. In 2014, Big Switch secured its first two multi-million dollar customers and secured a partnership with Dell. Big Switch also has partnerships with 20 technology firms including A10, Blue Coat, FireEye, and Riverbed and has 27 channel partners.

Big Switch Networks offers both Big Monitoring Fabric as an ultra low-cost way to access network taps and facilitate coordination between network and performance monitoring teams, and Big Cloud Fabric that provides a multi-hypervisor based networking that reduces costs and enables innovation. Big Monitoring Fabric employs bare metal switch economics, has scale-out architecture, simplifies operations, and has been used to enable pervasive security, application protocol recognition, monitor every rack or location, and allows for real-time 4G/LTE traffic visibility and sFlow monitoring.

The Fabric uses open Ethernet switches (bare metal or “Brite Box” with Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) to automatically install third-party network operating systems). It also utilizes Big Switch’s SDN-enabled Switch Light OS and a cluster of SDN-enabled Big Mon controllers. These components can be launched either out-of-band (OOB; adjacent to production network) or inline (in the production network).

Big Cloud Fabric (BCF) utilizes SDN software and bare metal Ethernet switch hardware (whitebox or britebox): the first of its kind. BCF uses the BCF Controller Cluster (virtual machines or hardware appliances), Open Networking Leaf and Spine Switch Hardware, Switch Light Operating System (very lightweight), and has the optional high-performance Switch Light VX software.

The BCF Controller integrates with VMware, OpenStack, and CloudStack through a single interface to streamline operations reducing management consoles by a ratio of 30:1 or greater, and integrates network, security, and audit workflow. BCF, like nearly all SDN technology, aims to simplify, reduce capital expenditures (capex; by over 50 percent), increase scalability and resilience, and encourage rapid innovation.

Plexxi

Plexxi’s products include Plexxi Switch hardware, which consolidates the network fabric into a single tier to reduce capex (less hardware and cabling) and opex (operating expenditure; through automation and operational efficiency), Plexxi Control software, their SDN controller with load balancing and traffic control, Big Data Fabric to obtain high-capacity interconnect with bandwidth and latency control, and Datacenter Transport Fabric to connect dispersed (or densely populated) data centers under a single Layer-2 domain with end-to-end service control and application SLAs. Plexxi, which began in 2010 and garnered $83.4 million in VC investment, also offers Plexxi Starter Kits for customization to fit a network’s needs. Plexxi believes that it can “cut the cost of building and operating a corporate data center by a factor of five.”

Cumulus Networks

Cumulus Networks also aims to reduce capex and opex by transforming networks into open (choice of hardware, software, vendor), responsive, and affordable networks with simplified data centers. Cumulus Networks has the only full-featured Linux operating system for networking hardware, which it developed in large Internet and cloud companies. This operating system simplifies the numerous tools on Linux for management, automation, and monitoring while unifying the supply chain and architectural model of computing.

Cumulus VX allows cloud administrators and network engineers a risk-free period to preview, test, and build within the Open Networking that runs on top of existing networking hardware. Cumulus VX has standard server automation and monitoring and open-source or commercial tools. Cumulus has 7 open-hardware partners, more than 80 solution partners and over one million switch ports worldwide. If a network does not use Linux, the same architecture, foundation and user experiences are available on Cumulus Rack Management Platform (RMP). RMP is available as-is or to build rack management applications on top of for OOB management.

Barefoot Networks and Forward Networks

Both Barefoot Networks and Forward Networks began in 2013 and are currently operating in “stealth mode.” Barefoot Networks, based in Palo Alto, has not disclosed its funding amount or sources, but it is generally believed that they are developing a programmable data plane through chips that will allow programmers to change the way a network examines packets. They aim to revolutionize the control-plane that SDNs are currently using by “building a completely protocol-agnostic hardware layer,” says CEO Martin Izzard.

Forward Networks raised $11.15 million its first round of VC funding and was founded by four Stanford PhDs who have a background in developing new technology and software in SDNs for large networking companies. Their “goal is to accelerate an industry-wide transition toward networks with greater flexibility, agility, and automation, driven by a new generation of network control software.”

6WIND

With increased Internet speeds and the expansion of SDNs, virtual network switches have become a bottleneck within the network. 6WIND is a software company that makes packet processing software, which they claim will offer a minimum of 10 times the network performance for physical and virtual Linux network applications. Their customers include Alcatel-Lucent, Hitachi, HP, KT, Ericsson, NEC, Orange, Broadcom, Cisco, Emulex, Huawei, and Intel.

6WIND offers its innovative virtual accelerator for virtual switching, IP forwarding, IPSec, NAT, filtering, general routing encapsulation, and infrastructure for NFVs without impacting the software environment. It has also launched 6WIND Gate, which allows customization of virtual switches’ accelerated features. These features provide great scalability for SDN-architectures.

6WIND’s Accelerator is transparent to all software, integrates simply, offers high bandwidth for virtual machine (VM) performance in SDNs, accelerated switching, networking, multi-tenancy, security, and remains independent of network hardware. 6WIND’s software demonstrated allowance of 107 million concurrent sessions-at least 100 times what Linux could handle in terms of memory. Video streaming can also be sped up to six or eight times currents speeds with 6WIND.

Conclusion

As with many innovations in technology, NFV aims to simplify, improve the ability to innovate and reduce the costs associated with networks. The marketplace for NFVs is relatively new but is growing rapidly. In order to maintain one’s position in this market, it would be wise for companies to gather as many partnerships with other innovators to offer the most innovative yet simple, flexible, scalable and cost effective products possible. Though it remains to be seen what Barefoot and Forward Networks have to offer the market, Pluribus, Big Switch, Plexxi, and Cumulus have challenged the well-established network providers to be more innovative or have their technologies become quickly unmarketable.

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