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Big Switch launches SDN cloud fabric with bare-metal switches

Big Switch Networks launched is data center bare-metal product, Big Cloud Fabric. The SDN cloud fabric includes controller software, switch software and white box switch hardware.

Big Switch Networks launched Big Cloud Fabric, its SDN bare-metal data center switching fabric and controller, which will be dramatically less expensive than installing comparable black-box switching.

The SDN cloud fabric, available later this quarter, is a package of SDN software and bare-metal switches that will let mainstream data centers take advantage of the white-box network hardware economics that companies like Google and Facebook enjoy.

"This enables organizations to use white box switches and manage them effectively," said Bob Laliberte, senior analyst with Milford, Massachusetts-based Enterprise Strategy Group. "Big Switch is trying to commercialize the efforts [in the Open Compute networking project and Facebook's bare-metal Wedge switch] and give smaller-tier guys a product to manage those white box switches effectively."

Big Cloud Fabric includes the Big Cloud Fabric Controller, a high-availability version of Big Switch's OpenFlow controller, packaged with applications that turn it into an SDN cloud fabric controller. It ships as a cluster of virtual machines or hardware appliances. On the hardware side, Big Switch offers various choices of bare-metal leaf and spine switches sourced through Asian original design manufacturers (ODMs) Accton and Quanta Computer. Big Switch ships this hardware with its Switch Light operating system and also offers Switch Light vSwitch -- optional software for data center operators who want to control the virtual switch layer of the network via the fabric's controller.

An SDN cloud fabric with white box switches

Bare-metal switches typically cost much less than vertically integrated switches. Murray said his company's list prices will be generally 60% lower due to bare-metal economics.

Beyond the capital savings, Big Switch's SDN cloud fabric controller offers data center operators simplified operations, Murray said. Rather than setting up a network switch by switch in command line interface (CLI), an engineer can use a simple Big Switch GUI. The product also integrates with OpenStack and CloudStack orchestration software.

"[Big Cloud Fabric] is a new way to build, design and operate networks and move away from device-based CLI to centralized control and dynamic automation of networks," said Andrew Lerner, research director for Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner. "We're seeing this from other vendors, too, and it's validation that it's time to change and bring networking up to speed."

Big Switch is the first vendor to offer a commercially packaged SDN fabric built on bare-metal switches. Most data center network fabrics on the market today rely on the closed, vertically integrated network hardware and software that switch vendors have sold for decades.

Rival startup Pica8 offers similar building blocks for an OpenFlow-based bare-metal fabric, but it relies on open source controller software rather than a commercial software package. Also, its PicOS operating system is capable of operating as a traditional Layer 2/3 switch; whereas Big Switch Light is a pure OpenFlow switch software stack.

Big Switch is advocating a "core and pod" design for its SDN cloud fabric customers. The architecture includes a "core" rack stocked with controller nodes, spine switches and whatever network services and security engineers want to implement. Engineers can then deploy multiple server racks with leaf switches in a pod.

"We're trying to learn from how the hyperscale players are deploying, with a core and pod design where application-compute farms are done by rows instead of core-aggregation-edge," said Big Switch CEO Doug Murray.

Big Switch will offer one-, three- and five-year licenses for the fabric software -- including the controller and Switch Light -- and sell the white box Accton and Quanta switches directly. A version of the fabric built on Dell switches will be available later this year.

New white box switch options and Big Tap 4.0

With its fabric announcement, Big Switch added Accton as a second white box switch partner. Previously Big Switch only worked with Quanta. The vendor made the move to accommodate customers who want to standardize on one ODM platform.

"We had an LTE provider in Japan who said they really wanted our product but wanted to standardize on Accton," Murray said.

Big Switch also announced version 4.0 of its Big Tap product, which enables engineers to build an OpenFlow-based, tap and SPAN port aggregation network with bare-metal switches. The new version includes various feature enhancements to accommodate existing customers, including support of mobile protocol for LTE service providers and tunneling protocols that allow Big Tap fabrics in separate data centers to interact or aggregate network visibility traffic in a central location.

Big Switch also announced more than two dozen technology partnerships, including a broad array of network services and security vendors: A10 Networks, Blue Coat Systems, Check Point Software Technologies, Citrix Systems, F5 Networks, FireEye, Fortinet, and Riverbed. Big Switch has also partnered with Microsoft, with the intention of offering a version of Switch Light vSwitch that supports Hyper-V.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, news director, or follow him on Twitter @ShamusTT.

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What do you think of Big Switch's SDN cloud fabric? Are you ready for SDN and white box switches?