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Big Switch releases freemium software for SDN developers

Big Switch Networks hopes to boost brand awareness and market reach with freemium software for SDN development.

Big Switch Networks, a software-defined networking vendor, has released a freemium version of its software, hoping to entice potential customers and help developers find new uses for its flagship products.

This week, the SDN startup made basic versions of Big Cloud Fabric (BCF) and Big Monitoring Fabric (BMF) available for download on the company's website. Organizations may evaluate and test the freemium software on a single rack.

Big Switch is aiming the freemium software at developers, DevOps teams, universities and research organizations. The company hopes to increase brand awareness and to encourage developers to form a community around the products.

The vendor is willing to help some organizations get started. For example, it would consider donating switches to a university graduate program "to see what kind of use cases they come up with," said Doug Murray, CEO of the company.

Other SDN vendors have also taken steps to provide companies' networking teams with low-risk access to products. Juniper Networks, for example, offers an open source version of its SDN controller, OpenContrail, and Midokura does the same with its SDN overlay, MidoNet.

"The one difference with Big Switch is that this is their commercial-grade solution, not an open source version with limited features," said Shamus McGillicuddy, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, based in Boulder, Colo.

Organizations will have to buy the white box switches to run the freemium software. Vendors with compatible hardware include Dell and Accton Technology.

Upgrades to Big Switch software

Along with the Community Editions of BCF and BMF, the company released new versions of the products.

BMF is a network packet broker for a Big Switch SDN environment. The product does packet-based analysis and sends the data to the tools a company uses for monitoring network performance and security.

Big Switch provides advanced features in BMF 5.5 through an x86 server running Intel's Data Plane Development Kit, which is a programmable forwarding module for virtual switches based on code developed by the Open vSwitch Project.

The BMF server node handles deduplication and other packet-filtering chores that other vendors process through a custom application-specific integrated circuit. The two architectures are different, so companies need to evaluate each to determine which suits their needs, McGillicuddy said.

In general, the BMF upgrade brings Big Switch almost on par with rivals Gigamon, Ixia and Apcon, McGillucuddy said. "They still have some work to do to achieve complete feature parity."

BCF is a software-defined data center switching fabric that interoperates with OpenStack and VMware's server virtualization vSphere suite. The latest version, BCF 3.5, includes a plug-in for the graphical user interface of the vCenter Server. The upgrade also includes integration with vRealize Suite.

VCenter is the centralized management tool for the vSphere suite. VRealize is for creating and managing hybrid clouds.

Big Switch competes with SDN software-makers Cumulus Networks, IP Infusion and Pluribus Networks. The companies have aligned themselves with white box-makers Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and others to provide an alternative to Cisco's flavor of SDN, called Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI). Where Big Switch and the others' software can run on products from multiple hardware vendors, Cisco's ACI only runs on the company's networking gear.

Last week, Big Switch raised $48.5 million in its third round of funding, bringing its total to $94 million.

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