Dell To Offer Big Switch Networks' SDN Software On Its Ethernet Switches

Dell Thursday inked a deal with software-defined networking startup Big Switch Networks through which Dell will start offering Big Switch's software on its Ethernet top-of-rack switches.

The deal represents Dell's latest move to advance what it calls its Open Networking strategy, unveiled earlier this year. According to Round Roxk, Texas-based Dell, that strategy is designed to give customers greater flexibility and choice when it comes to the operating systems running on their Dell networking gear.

"Fundamentally now, on our top-of-rack 10GbE and 40GbE switches, customers have the choice to load an OS of their choice to suit a specific application," said Arpit Joshipura, vice president of product management for Dell networking.

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In addition to Big Switch's Switch Light operating system, which is a Linux-based, thin switching software designed largely for bare-metal switches, customers also can choose to leverage Dell's legacy networking OS or software from startup Cumulus Networks, which in January also signed a reseller agreement with Dell.

The Cumulus software, Joshipura said, is based on Linux, making it ideal for customers who have invested heavily in Linux-based environments and are looking to deploy the latest Linux applications and automation tools.

The Dell, Cumulus and Big Switch operating systems are meant to be used on Dell's S4810 and S6000 series top-of-rack switches. Joshipura said Dell likely will push the software out to other hardware "over the coming quarters," but will continue to focus on top-of-rack, data center switches.

As part of the deal, Dell also will be offering Big Switch's Big Tap Monitoring Fabric for network visibility and traffic monitoring. Big Tap leverages Big Switch's controller software and can integrate with other troubleshooting, application performance and network security tools.

According to Joshipura, Dell's Open Networking strategy with partners such as Cumulus and Big Switch lets it sit between proprietary or "black box" networking switches, where the hardware and software is provided by a single vendor, and "white-box" or bare-metal switches, which require customers to create or add their own OS.

"Customers don't have to go to a white-box vendor and figure out whether [a certain type of] software will work or not … this is a single neck to choke," Joshipura said.

Dell embracing third-party software also will help it broaden its reach beyond the enterprise and into new markets, such as mobile service providers and Web 2.0 companies, which have been early adopters of bare-metal and white-box technologies, Joshipura said.

Nathan Holman, vice president of solutions at Syscom Technologies, a Marietta, Ga.-based solution provider, said Dell's use of third-party software definitely has potential to set it apart in the market.

"I think [Dell] is doing this to differentiate themselves, and I think it's a great approach because I don't know another [vendor] that's doing this. I've seen the Cisco approach and the white-box approach … and I think this is really Dell trying to generate interest and demand in their products, and I think it's a novel approach," Holman said. "It will be interesting to see how it goes and how it's embraced by the channel."

Holman said the majority of Syscom's Dell business focuses on storage solutions, but that the company is starting to shift more resources to focus on Dell networking products. "We lead with Cisco on the networking side, but [Dell] gives us a legitimate alternative that we can come to the table with."
Dell channel partners will be able to sell a bundled Big Switch and Dell solution as a single SKU, according to Joshipura.

Big Switch CEO Doug Murray, who joined the Mountain View, Calif.-based company last year from Juniper Networks, said the deal with Dell will help kick-start its global channel charge.

"Having an open network-like model is something incredibly advantageous for channel partners because it gives them an opportunity to do something that is unique and differentiated and is done by an application-by-application or use-case-by-use-case basis," Murray said.

Big Switch earlier this month tapped Rajeev Gupta, former director of worldwide partner development and investments strategies at Juniper, as its first global channel chief.