Things move pretty fast in the virtualization world, but even so, the speed of evolution of network virtualization technology over the last six or seven months has been nothing short of flabbergasting.
Back in April I wrote about Nicira, a then little known startup that offered a network virtualization technology solution using the Open vSwitch (OVS) switch software, which runs inside the Xen, KVM or ESX hypervisors. At the time, I posed the question of whether it was the most interesting startup in Silicon Valley.
Back then, Bob Laliberte, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, wondered whether enterprises would want to commit to a software controller provided by a relatively unknown startup. "Lots of vendors are putting wood behind the arrow of SDN (Software-Defined Networking). Customers are more likely to adopt it if a major vendor like Cisco stands behind it and can support it," he said at the time.
Laliberte's comments were quite prescient. Software-defined networking is a huge buzzphrase in virtualization and cloud computing circles these days, and one of the major reasons for that is that the biggest name of all in the server virtualization space – VMware – has stood itself firmly behind it by taking the simple step of acquiring Nicira for $1.26 billion.
That was back in July of this year, and since then VMware has barely stopped talking about software-defined networking. And this week SDN took another major step forward with the launch of Big Switch Network's Open SDN Product Suite.
At the heart of this is the Big Network Controller, a product built on its open source Floodlight SDN controller, and Big Virtual Switch, a data center network virtualization application that runs on the Big Network Controller. Big Virtual Switch creates Virtual Network Segments for dynamic workloads, making it easier to move VMs around the data center automatically and resulting in up to 50% increases in virtual machine density, according to the company.
The advantage of network virtualization is that it decouples virtual networks from their underlying physical hardware in the same way that server virtualization platforms decouple virtual machines from the physical servers on which they run.
That's important for reconfiguring networks efficiently — you can effectively "spin up" a new network when you spin up or move virtual machines, without your network engineers needing to come in and install or configure new hardware and mess with changing IP addresses.
Of course, if you are responsible for a heavily virtualized data center or a private cloud infrastructure then you may have the same reservations about Big Switch Networks as Laliberte did about Nicira before it was acquired by VMware: When you revolutionize your operations with SDN, wouldn't you rather have a big name like VMware or Cisco behind you, rather than an upstart startup like Big Switch?
The pace of change in this area being what it is, it might well be that you can have both. Nicira was barely off the ground before it was acquired, and other companies in the virtualized networking space don't seem to remain independent very long: I/O virtualization specialist Xsigo was acquired by Oracle in July and Brocade recently announced that will buy Vyatta, another company involved in SDN. Rationalization is the name of this game, and the little fish are being snapped up pretty quickly.
So while Big Switch may well have Big Plans for the future, if you're prepared to hang on for a few more weeks or months you may find that its technology will be available from one Big Name or another in the networking world who is prepared to splash Big Bucks for the Open SDN Product Suite.
Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.