Plexxi, the much-buzzed-about software-defined networking startup last seen dropping hints about "affinity networking" and capturing millions in VC dollars, emerged from stealth mode Wednesday with what it's calling the industry's "first complete SDN system."
Specifically, Plexxi is launching two products: Plexxi Control and the Plexxi Switch 1. The former is server-based software that can dynamically and continuously compute network connectivity to tailor it based on infrastructure workloads. The latter is a set of physical switches that offer low-latency 10 GB and 40 GB Ethernet access and interconnect with each other using an optical interface called LightRail, which provides 400 Gbps of core capacity per switch.
The idea, according to Plexxi, is a flexible network that can leverage the connections between switches in a single tier instead of the traditionally hierarchical network model. In other words, use the efficiencies of Plexxi's platform in virtualized, cloud-ready data centers to do what physical infrastructure cannot easily.
"With all the discussion about software defining the network, what we're still doing is working with the same networks that are built in a rigid, defined structure," Mat Matthews, Plexxi's co-founder and vice president of product marketing, told CRN. "You need to change the physical network and come out with a new type of data center networking product that can be defined as software all the way down. If we're building dense, hierarchical networks just to connect switches together and not necessarily do everything else, that's overly complicated already."
Plexxi has sought to market itself apart from the expanding pack of SDN startups using the term "affinity networking," meaning that servers, storage and networking devices -- both physical and virtual -- need to be connected to each other as directly as possible and exhibit an "affinity" toward each other, or work together as part of the same application workload. Ergo, instead of the infrastructure distributing the network capabilities evenly across devices in the network, Plexxi's system distributes those capabilities proportionally to what's being used and when.
That's a big difference between Plexxi and other SDN solutions that call for overlaying software on top of legacy network hardware, according to Mathews.
"We work with a lot of overlay vendors and that is one approach to it, but we think it's only a good start," he said. "By itself, it doesn't do anything and requires the user to figure out how to program and think about applications for their network. That might be good for large carrier customers that think of the network as their product and want to program it that way but, for average enterprises, they want a network that does stuff for them and makes applications perform better."
The Plexxi Switch 1 starts at $64,000, including all inter-switch optics and cabling. Plexxi Control begins at $5,000 per switch, and Plexxi also is selling the system in a monthly subscription option.
Plexxi's had plenty of good buzz so far. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company in June launched the first phase of a private beta with select customers. Later that month, Plexxi copped $20.1 million in Series C venture funding, bringing its total take to $48.5 million and including well-known funders such as Lightspeed Venture Partners, Matrix Partners and Northbridge Venture Partners.
According to Mathews, the company has just shy of 60 employees and is continuing to hire in sales, marketing and engineering. Plexxi isn't yet defining a go-to-market strategy for the channel, but Mathews said it will look to work with solution providers down the line.
"We want to be very intimate with this first group of customers," he said. "We want to build with them and assure them they can grow. But certainly as we look to build out our sales efforts we're going to need to figure out how to scale this. My guess is we will have a reseller base."
SDN startups are spending more time in the spotlight than ever thanks to major acquisitions in the space such as VMware's $1.2 billion buyout of Nicira, and the commercial launches of newcomers such as Big Switch Networks.
Other startups, such as Japan-based Midokura, also have recently entered the North America market or emerged from stealth mode.
PUBLISHED DEC. 5, 2012