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Big Switch-HPE partnership opens chances for enterprise SDN

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is partnering with SDN vendor Big Switch. The HPE partnership is expected to take advantage of Big Switch's limited success in the enterprise market.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise could better its chances of taking its open switching hardware to mainstream enterprises through a partnership with Big Switch Networks Inc., a developer of software-based networking products.

The companies announced this week that HPE would sell and support Big Switch software on its Altoline switches, which also run products from Big Switch rival Cumulus Networks. The Big Switch-HPE partnership will make the company's products available on Altoline 6960, 6941 and 6921 leaf-spine switches.

Adding Big Switch as an option on Altoline hardware is important because the vendor -- along with Cumulus -- is starting to gain traction among enterprises, according to Gartner's latest Magic Quadrant for Data Center Networking. Today, the biggest users of products in which networking software is separate from the underlying hardware are financial institutions, carriers and cloud providers operating data centers many times larger than the average enterprise data center.

"To date, we've only observed HPE take Altoline into extra, extra-large environments," said Gartner analyst Andrew Lerner. "So, this [latest partnership] certainly could have a big impact on the market, but only if HPE positions the Big Switch offerings prominently in the enterprise."

Big Switch offerings in HPE partnership

HPE will offer two Big Switch products: Big Cloud Fabric and Big Monitoring Fabric (BMF). The latter is a network packet broker, and the former is orchestration software for switches in a network fabric.

Big Switch has sold BMF to a small number of enterprises that use the product in noncritical applications, according to Gartner. Because BMF is relatively risk-free, Big Switch has used it to build trust with skittish customers.

HPE's credibility with businesses could bolster Big Switch's reputation in the market. Gartner said it believes HPE's primary long-term role in data center networking will be as a systems integrator and reseller, versus a direct competitor to other vendors.

Last year, HPE announced a reseller agreement with Arista, which provides switches mostly to operators of mega-scale data centers. With Big Switch, HPE can sell BMF to enterprises without competing with the Arista-HPE partnership.

"The Big Switch NPB [network packet broker] offering is a stand-alone and dedicated use case that HPE could position in a way that doesn't conflict with Arista," Lerner said. "So, there's a bit more potential enterprise impact with BMF on Altoline."

Gartner has seen more enterprises using software-based networking products that run on another vendor's hardware. The analyst firm estimated 1,000 companies have licensed the bundles for production environments.

Roughly 30% of Cumulus' more than 500 paying customers are enterprises, according to Gartner. The rest are service providers. Cumulus' flagship product is a Linux-based network operating system, called Cumulus Linux.

Lumina makes debut as SDN consultant

In other SDN-related news, startup Lumina Networks Inc. made its debut in the market with an SDN controller bought from Brocade Communications Systems Inc., which is in the process of selling itself to chipmaker Broadcom.

The controller, which is 100% open source, is built on specifications set by the OpenDaylight Project. The group focuses on creating an open source code base for the major components of an SDN platform. Communication service providers are the primary users of OpenDaylight-based technology.

"Lumina is more of a network-operator play, and not large enterprise," Lerner said.

Lumina said it would contribute to the open source community future enhancements to the controller. The company's revenues will mostly come from network development services that help service providers build production systems based on OpenDaylight.

Andrew Coward, who was Brocade's vice president of business strategy, is CEO of Lumina, which is headquartered in San Jose, Calif.

Next Steps

Getting hands-on with an open network operating system

Getting real SDN integration through open APIs

Why enterprises shouldn't ignore open source networking software

Dig Deeper on Data Center Network Infrastructure

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