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SDN Startup Midokura Takes on IT Giants

Midokura this week announced its MidoNet software, which promises to virtualize networks to enable infrastructure as a service.

Software-defined networking just got a new player. Midokura is a startup that's attacking network virtualization with an ambitious software platform called MidoNet that aims to upend the traditional networking market. Midokura announced its U.S. launch and its MidoNet software at the OpenStack developer conference in San Diego this week. It also announced MidoNet integration with OpenStack.

The MidoNet software, currently in beta, is designed to provide network virtualization to enable cloud providers and enterprises to build infrastructure as a service environments for either public or private clouds. Midokura was founded in 2010 in Japan. It has raised $5.5 million in venture capital, and has offices in Tokyo as well as in San Francisco and Barcelona.

Midokura's approach embraces many of the general principles of SDN, including the abstraction of the physical network and software-driven, dynamic provisioning of network services. However, unlike some other SDN approaches, Midokura does not rely on a centralized controller or the use of the OpenFlow protocol. Instead, it creates a virtual network overlay on top of an IP-connected network. MidoNet software, which is designed to run on Linux servers, is deployed at the edge of the network and connected to a customer's aggregation router. The software creates tunnels to pass traffic through the physical network devices.

"We push the intelligence to the edges of the network, which are the hosts running the software," says Ben Cherian, chief strategy officer at Midokura. "The hosts provide L2 and L3 services."

This approach is similar to network virtualization that's enabled by draft protocols such as VXLAN, backed by Cisco Systems and VMware, and NVGRE, backed by Microsoft and others.

Midokura is nothing if not ambitious. In addition to competing against other network virtualization and SDN players such as VMware and Cisco Systems, and startups like Big Switch Networks and Embrane, the company is also going after F5 and Citrix, which provide higher-layer network services such as load balancing. Cherian says customers can use MidoNet's own load balancing and firewall features and get rid of traditional vendors.

It's bold talk from a tiny company, but boldness may be required to get noticed in an emerging market that's already churning with startups and big-name vendors alike, each of which has its own technological approach to SDN.

Aside from the competitive landscape, Midokura also has to fight for what is, at present, a limited customer base of cloud service providers and very large enterprises that have a pressing need to build multitenant networks that can scale on demand. The wider market of general enterprise customers have an interest in building private clouds and streamlining network provisioning, but they take a cautious approach to re-architecting their networks. As Mike Fratto pointed out in a Network Computing column this spring, "I bet most companies aren't going to seriously consider SDN for some years--a long enough time for the VC money to dry up and larger vendors to pick up the carcasses."

Midokura knows this. "Our primary focus is cloud service providers," said Cherian. "Enterprises have to grapple with culture and other issues. I think it will take them longer to figure out how to use self-service IT in the enterprise."

As mentioned, MidoNet is currently in beta. Midokura will make the software available to early customers, partners and developers. Cherian said the software would be generally available in a few months. Drew is formerly editor of Network Computing and currently director of content and community for Interop. View Full Bio

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