With so much discussion about software-defined networking focused on what the big, established networking vendors like Cisco, HP and Juniper are doing, small SDN startups can get lost in the shuffle. But these startups are doing a lot of innovative, groundbreaking work to drive the networking industry forward, so you're missing out if you're not paying attention. In fact, many of them pioneered SDN, spurring industry giants to develop their own SDN strategies.
Investors definitely like what they see with these SDN startups. They've pumped about $650 million into SDN and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) startups so far, said Scott Raynovich, chief analyst and publisher of Raynoreport.com. He expects that amount to double over the next three to five years.
A number of SDN startups have already been acquired by bigger vendors, validating their potential. In 2012, VMware made what was then its biggest acquisition when it bought Nicira for $1.25 billion. Juniper followed up with its $176 million purchase of Contrail Systems, and Brocade bought Vyatta.
SDN and NFV "represent a key shift in the networking market, bringing about the biggest potential changes in two decades," according to "The Software Defined Network Revolution: An Ecosystem Report," a report published by Rayno Media last year.
In a report last summer, market-research firm Infonetics said its survey of large and midsize enterprises indicated that 87% plan to have SDN live in the data center by 2016. Nearly a quarter of those polled said they would consider non-traditional network vendors for their SDN applications and orchestration software. SDN "spells opportunity" for existing and new vendors alike, Cliff Grossner, Infonetics directing analyst, said in releasing the report.
A lot of new companies are seizing that opportunity. Here's a sample of some of the many SDN startups shaking things up in the networking space.
Big Switch, one of the first SDN startups in the market and probably the most well-known, was founded with the goal of commercializing OpenFlow. The company shifted its strategy in 2013 away from overlays to focus on bare-metal switches and software. Last summer, Big Switch launched Big Cloud Fabric, which aims to bring hyperscale data center network design to the enterprise with SDN software and bare-metal Ethernet switch hardware in pod designs.
Plexxi is another early SDN startup, opening its first office in 2010. The company's SDN platform consists of the Plexxi Switch and the Plexxi Control software. Plexxi calls its approach "Affinity Networking," which it describes as "an open model for describing conversations that expresses application workload requirements in non-networking terms." In a blog post on Plexxi's technology last year, Network Computing Contributor Tom Hollingsworth said, "Affinities are a great example of how software is going to drive network operations in the future." Plexxi also distinguishes itself by using optical interconnects.
Founded in Japan in 2010, Midokura launched its MidoNet network virtualization platform in the US two years later. MidoNet is a distributed virtual network overlay designed to help cloud providers and enterprises build Infrastructure-as-a-Service environments. Midokura made a bold move in the fall when it open sourced MidoNet, targeting OpenStack deployments.
Pica8 was an early proponent of the white-box switch model. The company's PicOS network operating software runs on a variety of white-box switches from its hardware partners or an integrated package from Pica8. The startup appears to have started a trend among SDN vendors when it launched its SDN "starter kit" in late 2013. Plexxi and Big Switch are among those that also now offer starter kits.
Another SDN startup taking a disaggregated approach to networking is Cumulus Networks, which launched its Linux-based network operating system for white-box switches in 2013. Cumulus scored a major win early last year, when Dell agreed to offer Cumulus Linux to customers as an option for two of its top-of-rack switches. The company has raised about $51 million in funding.
PLUMgrid launched its virtual network infrastructure software platform in 2013, and last year followed up with its OpenStack Networking Suite. The suite is built on the PLUMgrid platform, and features security and scalability capabilities for OpenStack clouds. The company also announced last year that it had raised $16.2 million in Series B funding, bringing its total financing to about $27 million.
Embrane came out of stealth in 2011, launching its heleos technology focused on layers 4-7. In a 2013 blog post, Network Computing Contributor Ethan Banks said unlike some SDN wannabes, Embrane has achieved "true SDN in the network services space." Last year, Embrane raised $14 million in Series C funding, led by Cisco (also now a key partner to the startup), raising its total funding to $41 million. Cisco's investment could give Cisco ACI an option to deploy networking support services around existing hardware, Tom Hollingsworth, Network Computing contributor, wrote last year. The Cisco investment and partnership has led to much speculation that Cisco will eventually acquire Embrane.
Pluribus Networks was founded in 2010 with the goal of providing "server economics, innovation, and programmability" to top-of-rack switching. Early last year, the startup officially launched its integrated server-switch technology and its Netvisor, which the company touts as the industry's first and only distributed bare-metal network hypervisor operating system. Pluribus Networks President and CEO Kumar Srikantan was formerly VP and general manager of hardware engineering for Cisco's enterprise networking business.
Anuta Networks launched its first product, nCloudX, in early 2013. The technology is designed to provide IaaS cloud providers with a way to manage heterogeneous network environments and also automate the provisioning of network services. Last year, Anuta expanded its scope with NCX, a network service orchestration software platform targeting campus, branch and data center networks.
Viptela is among a new breed of SDN companies focused on the WAN. Viptela came out of stealth last spring with its Secure Extensible Network, which is designed to reduce the cost and complexity of the enterprise WAN by increasing flexibility via an encrypted overlay network. The startup has $33.5 million in funding from Sequoia Capital, and is headed by former executives from Juniper, Cisco, and HP. Other SDN startups focused on the WAN include CloudGenix and Glue Networks.
- Marcia Savage
- Connect Directly
10 SDN Startups On The Cutting Edge
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