SDN Watch: Midokura Enters U.S. Market

Midokura, a Japanese software-defined networking (SDN) startup riding a wave of good notices, has confirmed its entry into the U.S. market and on Monday announced both the official release of its MidoNet platform and that it has integrated with OpenStack.

It's a hot time in the SDN market. With the expanded role of software in network infrastructure seen as a "when," not an "if," major technology companies such as Cisco and Hewlet-Packard are sharpening their SDN strategies while a slew of startups, from Big Switch Networks to Embrane, Plexxi and many others, emerge from stealth mode and attack the SDN and network virtualization questions from different angles.

Several startups already have been acquired by bigger fish, such as VMware's $1.2 billion pickup of Nicira over the summer, and many more are said to be in play. Research firm IDC puts the loosely defined SDN market at about $2 billion by 2016, up from roughly $200 million in 2013.

[Related: 10 Next-Gen Networking Startups Ripe For The Plucking ]

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Into the fray comes Midokura, and core to its strategy is MidoNet: a distributed, decentralized virtual platform that uncouples a customer's cloud assets from its network hardware infrastructure, creating a software abstraction layer programmed to act as a go-between between end hosts and the physical network. Another way to look at it is virtualizing the network stack, in that network operators can use MidoNet to leverage multivendor, physical network appliances in the software-based domain, and doing so specifically for IaaS systems such as OpenStack.

According to Ben Cherian, Midokura's chief strategy officer, Midokura is trying to solve three current problems with cloud-based networking: Existing networks are difficult to provision and scale, many current cloud networking models are insecure, and those cloud networking models also aren't resilient enough. Midokura sees itself living at the intersection of cloud computing, SDN and the move by vendors to use merchant silicon, as opposed to proprietary ASICs, to create good-enough switching at bargain prices, with the expectation that the network intelligence will be in the software, as opposed to the hardware.

"This is a different way of handling the network specifically for IaaS environments," Cherian told CRN. "It takes the network intelligence and puts it closest to where the decisions are being asked to be made. Our system treats [network assets] as if they were basically line cards in a mobile grid router."

Among MidoNet's features are virtual layer 2 distributed switching, virtual layer 2 isolation, virtual layer 3 distributing routing, virtual layer 3 isolation, layer 4 services like firewall and load balancing, NAT, access control, virtual port and device monitoring, restful API and Web-based management. It takes an overlay approach to implementation, meaning it can sit right on top of any IP-connected network, according to the company.

"All we require of the network is IP connectivity," Cherian said. "We believe everything else can and should be handled in the software."

The net benefits, according to Midokura, are that MidoNet lowers both cap-ex, in that the network intelligence is in the software so the customer can use baseline x86-based hardware instead of higher-end, proprietary network appliances, and op-ex, because management of the MidoNet platform theoretically requires fewer network engineers than what customers are used to with their current infrastructure. Both enterprises and service providers would benefit, the company said.

"I know one large telco that has 500 people doing this particular management job. That's amazing," Cherian said. "I think the question that hasn't come up a lot is, who are the network engineers in control of IaaS, and does it have to be that many?"

Founded in January 2010 by CEO Tatsuya Kato and CTO Dan Mihai, Midokura's name is a combination of parts of two Japanese words: "midori," meaning green, and "kuraudo," meaning cloud.

Originally, its engineers were at work on two projects: MidoNet and another platform called MidoStore that was going to tackle object storage. According to the company, it decided to focus 100 percent on the networking side because it presented more interesting problems to solve.

Midokura during its stealth phase raised about $5.5 million from Japanese investors and hired employees from Amazon, Fulcrum Microsystems, Google, NEC, DreamHost, NTT and other companies. It currently has 24 employees across three offices in San Francisco, Tokyo and Barcelona.

MidoNet is in limited beta at present and is expected to hit general availability within a few months. A company spokesperson said Midokura will publicly release pricing at that time.

Its OpenStack relationship includes full integration with OpenStack Essex, as well as Quantum plug-ins and Nova network drivers for use with OpenStack clouds. The company is a sponsor at this week's OpenStack Summit in San Diego.

Midokura does plan to work with U.S. and global channel partners, Cherian said, and already is recruiting a handful of select, cloud-focused systems integrators. It declined to provide any names of its prospects but plans to reveal them on its website when details are finalized.

"In the next 12 months, I'd expect to have a small handful of cloud systems integrators," Cherian said. "The big reason for this is that many SIs lack the competency to do a cloud implementation correctly. [Our] SIs will need to have strategy, application, development, infrastructure, networking, storage, virtualization, dev-ops, and cloud operations expertise all focused around cloud deployments. Right now, that's a very small list but we're hoping that this knowledge spreads out a bit more and there are more partners that appear."