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Big Switch Networks' new-world order ... without Cisco and VMware

Big Switch Networks has partnered with every major networking and hypervisor vendor for software defined networking -- except Cisco and VMware.

In part one of this article on the Big Switch Networks software defined networking release, we learned about the company's OpenFlow controller, network virtualization platform and network monitoring application, as well as it's army of heavy-weight vendor partners. In part two, we ask: Where do Cisco and VMware fit in?

In its new software defined networking (SDN) and network virtualization strategy, Big Switch Networks has announced partnerships with 27 vendors, including network hardware players Brocade, Juniper, Arista and HP, as well as hypervisor providers Citrix and Microsoft. But the absence of Cisco and VMware is quite notable.

John Chambers always says he doesn't care about competitors, he only cares about market transitions. Well this is a potentially significant market transition.

Joe Skorupa,
analyst, Gartner Inc.

Both VMware and Cisco have technology that will compete with Big Switch, but both sets of technology are expected to be largely proprietary, while Big Switch will focus on an open architecture that encourages third-party development and works across multi-vendor environments.

Cisco software defined networking

Ever since SDN became a technology worth taking seriously, pundits have wondered whether it would commoditize network hardware and cannibalize Cisco's business. Cisco has been a member of the Open Networking Foundation and a developer of OpenFlow technology, and it unveiled its own SDN and cloud networking strategy, Cisco Open Network Environment (ONE) with application programming interfaces open to its own users.

It remains to be seen whether Cisco's strategy will hold up against startups that are completely focused on SDN and network virtualization, and may be more open to third-party development.

"John Chambers always says he doesn't care about competitors, he only cares about market transitions. Well this is a potentially significant market transition where Cisco is in the unfamiliar position of being the incumbent. They're used to playing the role of disruptor," said Gartner distinguished analyst Joe Skorupa.

Cisco supports both overlay technology and controllers for a hybrid approach that works in its own environment, while competitive strategies can work in multi-vendor environments.

"You can see this in two different ways: One is that Cisco doesn't want to play with others, and the other is that this is their market and they know best from listening to their customers what they need to do. The truth is probably a little bit of both," said SDN expert and research analyst Nick Lippis.

VMware-Nicira for network virtualization

Meanwhile, VMware's newly acquired Nicira technology could go head-to-head with Big Switch's network virtualization platform, but it also isn't expected to be based on open standards.

Skorupa noted that VMware is seen as a disruptor in the networking market with its own virtualization networking technology, but the company is an incumbent in the world of virtualization, and may face some challenges from network virtualization startups.

VMware is expected to stay with proprietary technology for its network virtualization and it may not be able to offer a hybrid environment.

"There are three models in how we build SDN. There is the overlay model, the controller model, and there is a hybrid model. It's going to be the hybrid model that is the dominant approach. What VMware [with Nicira] is going to be doing is pure overlay," Lippis said.

Meanwhile, Big Switch's technology can be written to work in a VMware environment. That means some customers may implement Big Switch controllers and network virtualization in their VMware environment, posing a challenge to the Nicira technology.

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