New Big Switch CEO: Channel To Play Key Role In Our 'SDN 2.0' Strategy

In hopes of becoming the market leader in a new era it calls software-defined networking (SDN) 2.0, networking startup Big Switch Networks has abandoned its traditional network overlay approach to adopt instead a new strategy that involves bare metal switches and, ultimately, doing more business through the channel.

"The original premise of SDN -- or what we will call SDN 1.0 -- conceptually was really, really good," said Doug Murray, CEO of Big Switch, in an interview with CRN this week. "You had Big Switch and a couple of other companies that were there, looking at how you define an overlay network and really get that insertion of SDN. There was a lot of hype, but there was a lot of struggle in terms of how to make that reality."

Murray, who joined Mountain View, Calif.-based Big Switch three months ago from Juniper Networks, described these network overlays -- a type of SDN deployment that involves running a separate, software-based layer on top of existing network infrastructures -- as the "first generation" or phase of SDN.

[Related: New Big Switch Software Aims To Fire Up SDN, OpenFlow Adoption ]

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Big Switch, ironically, was one of the original proponents of this overlay approach, and the technology is still used today in SDN platforms like VMware's NSX.

But, according to Murray, Big Switch and its customers discovered significant shortcomings to the overlay model, including increased complexity and a lack of visibility across physical and virtual infrastructures.

"The challenge that really materialized in generation one was that -- and there are a multiple things -- but No. 1 is that you basically had two networks. Instead of having a unified approach to the network, you had to manage the overlay network and the underlay network," Murray told CRN. "It made it fairly complex."

Big Switch isn't alone in its dismissal of the overlay approach. Cisco Chief Technology Officer Padmasree Warrior in a blog post last year said a software-only overlay approach "doesn’t scale" and "denies customers a common policy framework and common operational model for management, orchestration and monitoring."

Big Switch, for its part, wants to put the overlay concept to bed with a new strategy called "SDN 2.0," an approach that uses bare metal switches running Big Switch's Switch Light software for the orchestration of virtual and physical networks.

As part of the shift, Big Switch last year resigned from its leadership position in the OpenDaylight project, an industry consortium dedicated to the development of SDN open-source standards like OpenFlow, the protocol on which Big Switch's overlay was based.

NEXT: The Channel, Bare Metal Switching Strategy

Big Switch's Murray said the company's new bare metal switching strategy is similar to what tech giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon are employing in their own data centers.

"We want to take that Google model to the masses," Murray said.

To do that, Murray continued, Big Switch will turn to the channel, especially to help with the integration of Big Switch software onto the bare metal switches the company acquires through ODMs.

"We are absolutely a channel play," Murray said. "From my experience being in the networking space for a while, it's really the only way to go."

Big Switch's flagship products include its Big Tap 3.0 monitoring fabric and a new unified physical and virtual cloud switching fabric that the company is building out now. Murray declined to give any sales figures for Big Tap but said he's seeing "great traction." The unified physical and virtual fabric, meanwhile, is currently in beta testing with five customers.

Big Switch hasn’t started recruiting solution providers just yet, but the company in January signed on Synnex as its first U.S. distributor partner, an initial step, Murray said, toward building out Big Switch's North American channel.

"As we've made the switch to SDN 2.0, and are really looking at [physical and virtual] leveraging bare metal, we are laser focused on execution at this point," Murray said. "And the channel will play a very, very key part in all of that."