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9 SDN Starter Kits And Freebies

  • Software-defined networking might sound intriguing, but if you're a busy network engineer, how do you have time to really check it out? A growing number of pre-packaged bundles of SDN technologies are trying to make it easy to get started.

    Since Pica8 launched the first SDN starter kit about 18 months ago, other vendors have followed with their own kits designed to help network pros get their feet wet and overcome barriers to enterprise SDN adoption. In general, any sort of SDN starter kit is helpful, Ethan Banks, a network architect and Packet Pushers Podcast host, said in an email interview.

    "These are tools that ease a network engineer into a different approach to networking. While engineers are used to the device-by-device management approach, the SDN approach is centralized -- a whole different operational strategy," he said. "The starter kits take all the needed components and make them easy to consume, taking some of the fear out of trying SDN. You get software, a controller, and switches with varying capabilities, depending on the kit."

    What's key, Banks said, is that many starter kits target specific SDN use cases. "SDN is not a thing that you buy. SDN is a tool that facilitates specific business goals. The starter kits are bundled with this in mind, offering a package that helps a business accomplish something specific, and not just provide SDN as a sort of lab experiment," he said.

    He cited Big Switch's Big Cloud Fabric starter kit, which targets users building data center fabrics, and Plexxi's kits that integrate with OpenStack and focus on big data deployments.

    "Bottom line, most of the SDN starter kits put together all the pieces required to demonstrate specific value of SDN technology, as opposed to SDN for its own sake. That's helpful to network engineers as they should come away from the evaluation process able to communicate business value -- not merely technical capability," Banks said.

    Tom Hollingsworth, a network engineer and blogger, said SDN starter kits are appealing because they offer the right combination of products "to make everything work" for a proof-of-concept or lab deployment.

    "With hardware networking, a forgotten module or device could derail a project. Likewise, software can have issues with licensing or support. By crafting bundles that include the proper hardware, software, and support, companies are hoping that when the SDN conversation happens, the customer will respond with the purchase of the appropriate kit and begin deploying new technology rapidly without worry for missing pieces or inability to configure things correctly," he said in an email interview.

    Continue on for a sampling of some of the many SDN starter kits available today, along with some free ways to test out SDN technologies.

    Image: geralt/Pixabay

  • Pica 8


    Pica8 claims that its SDN starter kit will help a network engineer get an SDN lab up and running in an hour. The kit includes the company's PicOS network operating system, which features OpenFlow 1.4 and Open vSwitch v2.0 integration, the Ryu open source SDN controller developed by NTT Labs, a network tap application, and Wireshark. Normally, the Pica8 open switch is not included in the kit, but the company has a special promotion running through the third quarter of this year in which a customer can get the kit and a P-3297 48-port 1 Gbps switch for $4,995. The list price for the P-3297 is $4,400. Pica8 also offers a free trial of PicOS, which runs on compatible bare-metal top-of-rack Ethernet switches.

  • NEC


    NEC offers an entry-level license for its ProgrammableFlow SDN Controller software for $3,000. Company executives said last fall that the starter pack, designed for departmental or branch deployments, is part of a "pay-as-you-grow" model. The PF6800 SDN Controller is the centerpiece of NEC's OpenFlow-based network fabric. NEC also offers a free 90-day trial of its controller.

  • Big Switch Networks


    Big Switch sells two starter kits for its Big Cloud Fabric platform with switching hardware, software, and support. The first, designed for lab use, comes with two bare-metal leaf switches, one spine switch and one-year software licenses for a pair of Big Cloud Fabric controller virtual appliances. The second kit is designed for production use with double the number of switches and a three-year license for the virtual appliances. The kits cost $39,000 and $99,000 respectively.

  • Plexxi


    Plexxi differentiates its SDN starter kits by designing them for distinct uses: agile data centers, big data applications, and distributed cloud environments. The kit for the agile data centers, designed for both enterprises and public cloud providers, includes two switches, transceivers, cables, control software and OpenStack and vCenter integration modules. The distributed cloud kit has four switches, transceivers, cables and control software. It provides 80 gigabits of connectivity across a single pair of fibers. The kit designed for new big data application deployments of up to 436 nodes includes six switches and Cloudera and Hortonworks integration modules. Pricing starts at $60,000.

  • Cisco


    Cisco offers flexible starter packs for its Application-Centric Infrastructure platform that allow customers to chose a spine switch package with the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), a leaf switch package, and then add the ACI license for each leaf switch. The kits are designed to help with proof-of-concept lab deployments or to create an "ACI pod" in a data center. Pricing for the bundles starts at about $171,000.

  • Tallac Networks


    Tallac supports managed service providers who supply networking-as-a-service via its cloud-managed platform. The company's SDN Starter Kit, designed to provide hands-on experience with SDN, is based on Tallac's SDN Cloud Wi-Fi technology. The kit includes two Open Flow-enabled dual-radio 802.11ac wireless access points and can be used with either Tallac's integrated cloud-hosted OpenDaylight controller or an open-source SDN controller. The kit also includes documentation, training labs, and software.

  • Dell


    Dell sells starter kits for its Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) platform for proof-of-concepts and trials. Two configurations are available. One is based on the Dell PowerEdge R630 1RU compute nodes and the second is based on the Dell M1000e blade chassis and M630 compute blades. Both kits include Dell's S6000 10/40 GbE switches with support for OpenFlow, Dell's Active Fabric Controller (which is compliant with OpenDaylight), Dell Foglight and Open Manage Network Manager, along with reference designs and product support. The kits are designed to be flexible and modular, depending on how a user wants to start. Pricing starts at $100,000 to $200,000, depending on server count and configurations.

  • Brocade


    Brocade doesn't have a kit, but it offers a free license to manage up to five network nodes with its SDN Controller, formally the Vyatta Controller, for one year. Users can download the code from Brocade's website. The Brocade SDN Controller is a fully documented edition of the OpenDaylight platform. The free license includes 60 days of free support.

    Image: geralt/Pixabay

  • Open Contrail


    Users can experiment with the open source version of Juniper's Contrail network virtualization platform for free. An Apache 2.0-licensed project, OpenContrail includes an SDN controller, virtual router, analytics engine, and northbound APIs.