The weekend before last was a busy one for Big Switch Networks. With today’s launch of the Big Cloud Fabric in the works, the company was moving to a new headquarters — and moving its entire data center there as well.
Fifty racks of equipment got installed during the weekend to Santa Clara, Calif., into a second-floor space that previously housed McAfee’s data center. Big Switch didn’t get access to the space until Friday, July 11, and had to install everything the following Monday.
It was a test of the motto Big Switch is kicking off today: “Hyperscale networking for all.” Meaning you, too, can implement bare-metal switching the way Google and Facebook do, without having their massive R&D staffs. Big Switch, of course, wants to provide the software to run SDN on those switches.
“It shouldn’t be just Google and Facebook and Amazon that can leverage things like bare metal and SDN,” says Doug Murray, Big Switch’s CEO. “Other companies across other industries should have access to the same capability.”
But first, Big Switch had to rush-install the stuff itself — which it did manage to do successfully, Murray says.
“The timing of the move was impeccable, because we wanted to get back on the equipment,” Murray says. “They talk about things like zero-touch provisioning? All right, we’re gonna try it now.”
Graduation Day for Big Switch
The hyperscale angle is being launched today along with Big Cloud Fabric, Big Switch’s flagship product for controlling physical and virtual networks together.
The launch marks Big Switch’s graduation of sorts, putting closure on last year’s transition period that saw Murray take over from founding CEO Guido Appenzeller. During that time, Big Switch also revamped its market plans toward products targeting specific use cases, rather than the “Erector set” approach of 2010, when Big Switch provided a controller, expecting customers would write their own applications for it.
The old approach made some sense in SDN’s early days, when early adopters were the primary customers and the endgame — the final network shape, so to speak — was less clear. But Big Switch now faces competition from large vendors providing more comprehensive setups and a plain OpenFlow controller has lost its luster as a standalone product.
At the heart of the strategy is Big Cloud Fabric, which is orderable as of today and expected to ship this quarter. In addition to a controller, the Big Cloud Fabric includes Big Switch’s Switch Light operating system and, optionally, the Switch Light virtual switch — and bare-metal hardware, of course, provided by ODMs.
It’s the fabric for controlling physical and virtual switches together — although it’s also available in a mode that controls only physical switches. That’s for cases when customers are running a variety of hypervisors and virtual switches. “It obviously supports the workloads of VMware, KVM, Hyper-V, and so forth,” Murray says, but some customers don’t want the associated virtual switches all controlled by Big Cloud Fabric — hence, a separate product, Murray says.
Not Exactly Cisco’s SDN
Consider that an aside, though; the ability to control physical and virtual hardware is a linchpin of the company’s new SDN approach. Cisco shares that philosophy but of course doesn’t share Big Switch’s love of bare-metal switching. “Where they do have it right is this P+V, or unifying physical and virtual — that is the right approach. We just think you should do it on open hardware and with open components,” Murray says.
Big Cloud Fabric has 10 customers in beta, falling into three categories: private clouds (usually implemented on OpenStack, although one customer is using CloudStack), big-data workloads, and virtual desktop infrastructure, which is a popular use case among financial institutions, Murray says.
Big Switch is also announcing version 4.0 of Big Tap, its network tapping application, which is due to ship this quarter. It adds support for the Broadcom Trident II chipset, which in turn has brought Accton into the ranks of switch vendors qualified on the software. As previously announced, it also supports the S4000 and S6000 switches from Dell, Big Switch’s newfound OEM partner.
Big Tap 4.0 also includes tunneling capabilities, which allow it to talk to network monitoring tools that are in another data center. That way, an operator can use one set of tools but have them reach across multiple locations.
Finally, Big Switch is providing a business update today, mainly to say that business is looking up. During the second quarter, sales doubled and orders tripled compared with the previous quarter, Murray says. None of that includes the Dell agreement, which wasn’t due to kick into gear until this quarter.
In addition to university, government, and financial customers, Big Switch is selling to mobile carriers, as Big Tap has proven popular for LTE networks in Japan, Murray says.