The plot thickens. Software Defined Networking (SDN) startup Big Switch today announced a strategic partnership Dell, in which Dell will add Big Switch software to the list of installed components that can ship with its networking hardware.
The initial Dell hardware products include the Dell Networking S4810 and S6000 data center switches. Initial Big Switch software products include Switch Light OS and the Big Tap Controller.
Dell, which has embraced the SDN concept of opening up its networking hardware so that it can run many different software packages, has become a popular dance partner with SDN startups. Cumulus has already hitched its lot to Dell, with beneficial effect. Big Switch has now been invited to the big Dell dance as well.
Big Switch CEO Douglas Murray, in an interview with the Rayno Report today, says the move is complementary, rather than competitive with Cumulus, because Cumulus is focused on the OS and Big Switch is focused on selling controllers and applications in a more holistic SDN system.
The distribution will give a boost to Big Switch, which has been the subject to some ridicule in the industry after undergoing strategic turmoil and acquisition rumors last year. The company engineered a big management and positioning shift late last year, and Murray was installed. He has quickly engineered a makeover, having recently hired some key senior executives, including hiring ex-Juniper employee Shaun Page as Worldwide VP of sales, and industry veteran Joe Palazola as Vice President of Operations and Support. Palazola previously worked at Juniper, Extreme, and Sun Microsystems.
But the Dell deal also shows the growing complexity of the SDN market. Here’s the challenge in a nutshell: SDN, in its broadest sense, means you can buy a wide array of open networking components from different vendors, and mix and match hardware and software products to build a “solution” that runs on “bare metal.” But there are a lot of different components, including a wide range of open-source options, and some play better with each other than others. The shifting alliances and partnerships in the field mean you also have to keep careful watch for what might unfold next — or your guy could get cut out of the loop.
Dell partnering with Big Switch and Cumulus means that customers to choose from an array of OSes to boot on their Dell networking hardware, giving both startups a healthy sales channel.
Murray points out that Cumulus and Big Switch are “very different companies.”
“We are an SDN company,” said Murray. “The essence of what we do is a controller. The way you look at it, we have a controller that manages a series of switches in a cluster.”
In Murray’s view, the market is progressing to a more real-world scenario in which customers are actually buying solutions that are packaged together.
“We have started to move this into production-grade SDN and we are moving to the monetization stage,” says Murray.
Big Switch investors hope so. They have sunk $45 million into the company, and the only thing that will do now is a very large exit.