Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

SDN Strategies Part 4: Big Switch, Avaya, IBM,VMware

My last post in this series on vendors' SDN strategies looked at SDN products from Juniper, Dell, Brocade, and Alcatel-Lucent/Nuage. In this final post of the series, I examine how Big Switch, Avaya, IBM, and VMware approach software-defined networking.

Big Switch

Big Switch was the first influential company founded to commercialize OpenFlow, and its core product remains an OpenFlow controller that’s available as a physical or virtual appliance. It works with switches from most major hardware vendors. The Big Virtual Switch and Big Tap applications integrate with the controller, and the company’s Switch Light is a software platform for merchant-silicon-based physical and virtual switches within hypervisors.

Big Switch has shifted strategy in the last year to focus on embedded controllers for switch hardware manufacturers, and on a unified physical-virtual fabric that works across all layers of the network stack, from bare-metal hardware and OpenStack virtual switches to network controllers and services, such as cloud data and monitoring fabrics.


Avaya dares to be different with its SDN strategy. It shuns OpenFlow and instead builds on a standards-based SPB (Shortest Path Bridging) network fabric (Fabric Connect). It then layers on programmable interfaces, automated network management, and OpenStack virtual network support.

Like Arista, Avaya avoids the term “SDN,” preferring to call its strategy “Application Driven Networking,” with a focus on virtual network services and orchestration. Key to Avaya’s strategy is a virtual Ethernet overlay for OpenStack that extends the Quantum/Neutron network interface to support virtual networks spanning multiple subnets and VLANs.

Avaya’s fabric was on display at last year’s Interop, where it provided the conference and expo’s network backbone. The combination of SPB and Avaya’s Virtual Services Platform (VENA) provides MPLS-like functionality to access and edge devices. For example, several totally isolated networks can share a single Ethernet pipe, meaning retailers can use the same physical link -- say, a metro Ethernet or broadband connection -- for their guest Wi-Fi, company private intranet, and dedicated PCI DSS-compliant payment network.

And because VENA extends Layer 2 SPB to Layer 3 using IS-IS, VRFs can extend across WAN links. Adding APIs, network automation, and application services moves the platform into SDN territory.


IBM’s SDN strategy is based on a mix of standard and proprietary technologies. The result is a hybrid of OpenFlow physical networks, OpenStack virtual networks, and its own system management and automation platform, SmartCloud Orchestrator. IBM is one of the founders of OpenDaylight and has a long history of working in open source projects.

The company is leveraging the cooperative OpenDaylight project to produce the physical network OpenFlow controller, define southbound (OF) and northbound (OpenDaylight) APIs, and set the interfaces to OpenStack virtual networks (Neutron).

Much like Cisco with ACI and VMware with its software-defined datacenter strategy, IBM sees SDN as one piece of a comprehensive, private cloud-based SDDC including storage, compute, and management running virtualized applications.
One dark cloud over IBM’s strategy is a news report earlier this year by Re/code that, after selling its x86 server business to Lenovo, a deal that included its blade servers and switches, IBM is now exploring the sale of its SDN unit.


VMware’s SDN strategy is built on technology acquired from hot SDN startup Nicira and rebranded NSX. NSX is among the growing cadre of virtual network overlays built on an underlying physical network fabric for transport and tunneling protocols (VXLAN and NVGRE) with a central controller managing the mapping between virtual network resources and physical ports and servers.

NSX is clearly aimed at the sizable number of companies already using VMware. But while it does have a richer feature set when used on vSphere, including the ability to use virtual appliances for controllers and gateways, NSX works fine with KVM and Hyper-V, and with either the vSphere/vCloud or OpenStack management platforms. NSX also includes Layer 7 network services, including a firewall and VPN gateway (both site-to-site and client remote access).

And it has nurtured a growing ecosystem of virtual network appliances from the likes of Palo Alto Networks, Citrix, Silver Peak, and F5 for ADCs and WAN optimization, McAfee/Intel Security for virtual IPS, Symantec for virtual client anti-malware, and Trend Micro for a full virtual security suite.