Pluribus Networks today announced it is the latest SDN player to plug its software into Dell‘s hardware channel for white box switching. But there’s way more going on beneath the covers, so it’s time to delve into the details of some major refinements to Pluribus’s entire business strategy.
First, today’s “news.” Pluribus announced that is has created a new flavor of its Open Netvisor operating system (OS). This version will be based on standard Linux and sold as an option on Dell’s line of open 10-/40-Gb/s switches including the S6000-ON and S4048-ON. Pluribus joins other SDN vendors such as Cumulus Networks and Big Switch Networks, which also offer their Linux-based OS and tools for building SDN switching on the Dell platform.
The Dell deal is only part of the picture, however, as some other strategy shifts have occurred. Let’s catch up with an overview of what’s going on at the Palo Alto-based startup:
• By creating a standard, Linux-based version of Pluribus’s Netvisor, the company acknowledged it needed a standard Linux-based OS for the Dell OEM deal. But it says it will also continue to offer its original Netvisor OS, a customized operating system that blends pieces of Solaris, BSD, and other Linux flavors. This version of the OS will be positioned as the “Netvisor Premium” flavor.
• Pluribus will no longer sell its own switching and server hardware, with the exception of its F64 network appliances, which it says are a viable product for specialized SDN applications such as security analytics. This represents a major shift in strategy, with Pluribus becoming predominantly a software vendor.
• The company is amping up its “we do everything” approach to SDN, saying that not only do they sell a new, standard Linux-based OS, but stressing that the platform also includes capabilities to create VXLAN tunnels, Layer 2 and Layer 3 fabrics, built-in analytics, and application orchestration.
• The company disclosed that it has now raised a total of $97 million in funding during its lifetime, claiming the “most well-funded SDN startup” title — which looks true according to my calculations. This is slightly more than previously disclosed, because its prior round of $49 million, announced in January, was oversubscribed and subsequently closed at $52 million.
• Mark Harris has taken over the VP of marketing slot at Pluribus, replacing former Chief Marketing Officer Dave Ginsburg.
• The company now has 95 employees.
All of these represent some sweeping changes for the company, which has been one of the more ambitious and enigmatic of the SDN startups. Some critics have accused Pluribus having a bit of SDN Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) with its varied stories of a Layer 2/Layer 3 fabric, VXLANs, analytics platform, security features, and multiple server hardware and switching devices.
The Dell deal and the announcement go some way to clarifying the strategy. Shifting away from selling its own hardware makes sense, especially if you are trying to sell something that is “software defined.”
Unlocking the Pluribus Puzzle
Pluribus CEO Kumar Srikantan said a phone interview today that Pluribus’s story is complex because it’s necessary to do many more things than a standard white box in order to compete with large incumbent networking providers such as Cisco and Arista.
“You could give away white boxes for free, and you still won’t compete with Cisco,” says Srikantan. “You need architectural value beyond white boxes that can do Chef and Puppet. Our position is to bring more business value to the infrastructure, faster provisioning and management, analytics, network segmentation … and the ability to manage your security architecture.”
Srikantan says this is paying off with new customers. Although the company won’t disclose the names, it says it’s engaged with dozens of new and potential customers in both enterprises and cloud markets. It has previously disclosed several large customers including Cloudflare, Lucera, Morado Venture Partners, and Tibco Software.
Srikantan says that Pluribus needs further differentiation in the market to compete with Cisco’s ACI architecture as well as startup SDN competitors such as Big Switch and Cumulus. This is why it has added built-in analytics and Layer 2 fabric functionality, something it points out that none of the startup competitors has.
“With this step we have effectively equalized and exceeded Cumulus,” Srikantan said of the Dell deal. Cumulus struck a reseller deal with Dell in January of last year.
Stripping out the hardware business probably makes the most sense among Pluribus’ recent changes. Some market observers were confused that Pluribus was selling its own box at the same time that it was distributing through its OEM partner, SuperMicro. Now that it’s adding Dell as another OEM channel, it makes sense for Pluribus to ditch its own switching hardware line.
Srikantan said the company is now moving to be a pure software provider.
“If you have to sit there and build hardware and keep up with Cisco and Arista, you are falling into their business model. Why would I want to build hardware when Accton [another OEM for white-box switches] shows up with dozens of [different] switches?”
I must admit, all of this makes watching Pluribus exciting, given the controversy it generates in the market. I’ve heard people call them brilliant and I’ve heard people call them crazy.
This is because Pluribus is trying to do a lot. It may need all of that $97 million — and maybe more (Srikantan won’t say whether it will reach profitability before it requires more funding, though he says the target is profitability within two years).
Like a competitor in the ESPN X Games, Pluribus is “going big,” which means the result may be an IPO or SDN’s most spectacular crack-up. It’s the only SDN vendor that’s bulking up with a full platform that includes all the SDN bells and whistles, including analytics and a Layer 2 underlay.
It’s clear the Dell deal and strategy shifts were needed. Now we wait for customer announcements. One thing is clear: Pluribus’s deal with Dell means the white-box community now has more options than ever to build their own SDN switching and networking platforms based on open networking components.