This morning, Big Switch Networks and Clemson University announced a joint effort to bring Big Cloud Fabric to the higher education campus. With a 200-switch license for OpenStack, VMware, VDI and monitoring environments, Clemson’s “unique” campus network will become simpler to manage, says Dan Schmiedt, the university’s executive director of network services and telecommunications.
The collaboration with Big Switch isn’t random, he adds. The two have a storied history that began around 2010, when software-defined networking (SDN) was in its early development at Stanford and Clemson was one of the first few universities funded by the National Science Foundation’s GENI project.
“We have always been in touch with Big Switch as SDN has been evolving,” Schmiedt says. “It wasn’t something we just selected. It just was what evolved at Clemson was what was evolving at Big Switch. While we were brainstorming ideas and building experimental ideas, Big Switch was building production level products that actually worked.”
Because of this shared past (Schmiedt says a conversation during one GENI meeting with one of Big Switch’s founders, Kyle Forster, hatched the idea for Big Tap Monitoring Fabric), Schmiedt says the decision to go with Big Switch is more than just about vendor capabilities.
“They’ve taken the spark of OpenFlow and SDN and have wrapped into this solid thing that will work well, and they won’t just be a vendor, but they’ll be a partner to make sure it’s deployed correctly.”
Big Switch agrees.
“The revenue for this is significant, but I like to think that our long-running collaboration with the Clemson team is more nuanced than a customer-vendor relationship,” Forster writes in an email to SDxCentral. “Keep in mind we started working together on the core technology well before the company had commercial products to sell. Later on, the Clemson OpenStack team agreed to host one of our earliest beta sites for Big Cloud Fabric almost two years ago, and helped us immeasurably as we were refining the feature set and usability.”
Schmiedt points out that this announcement is important to the university’s commitment to SDN and networking. In traditional higher education environments, you’ll see a centralized department for the backbone of the network, but each department will run its own network — “a kingdom of fiefdoms,” Schmiedt says. But at Clemson, anyone can buy into its one HPC resource and access compute resources that the university will match.
This is the first major production deployment of SDN for Clemson. The 200 switch licenses, with Big Cloud Fabric tying them together, will eventually make up the university’s new data center, says Schmiedt.
“In the data center, that’s a pretty significant number,” Schmiedt says. “As we move forward, Big Cloud Fabric is what we’ll be using in the new pod architecture in our data center.”
When Schmiedt started working at Clemson more than two decades ago, he was a network engineer, wondering why computer science students weren’t learning more about the engineering side of networking. While professors were teaching a curriculum about networks, there was nothing showing how to run one.
“The reason is because prior to SDN, network devices were closed,” he says. “With SDN, now you have an open interface and you can give students interesting network problems to solve. I think that a university setting is a unique environment to have advanced high performance network and computing systems. You have a staff that have operated both for decades, students and faculty who want to do research; if you can create a feedback loop, you have something that will reshape networking as we know it. SDN is what hooks it all together.”