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Big Switch Networks stuffs $25m more down its trousers

Like VMware's Nicira SDN biz, but still for sale

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Quasi-stealth virtual networking startup Big Switch Networks has bagged its second pile of cash from venture capitalists, who hope to rake in the big bucks from the software-defined networks (SDN) craze – particularly after they missed the money train that was Nicira, which server-virtualization juggernaut VMware shelled out $1.26bn to acquire back in July.

Big Switch was founded in March 2010, and got its angel funding from Charlie Giancarlo, former chief development officer at physical switching biggie Cisco Systems, which was followed by $13.75m in Series A funding in April 2011 from Index Ventures and Khosla Ventures. This Series B funding round was led by Redpoint Ventures and also had some cash kicked in by Goldman Sachs; Index Ventures and Khosla Ventures also made contributions.

The company, which has not yet launched a commercial product line (just like Nicira) has as much cred in the SDN racket as Nicira did, and has technology based on the same virtual networking work that was done at Stanford University.

Big Switch has taken the Floodlight OpenFlow controller, a derivative of the open-source Beacon OpenFlow controller created by Stanford PhD student David Erickson, under an Apache 2.0 licence that is compatible with OpenStack, CloudStack, and Hadoop. Guido Appenzeller, the CEO at Big Switch Networks and a consulting professor at Stanford, was head of the Clean Slate Lab that created the OpenFlow standards.

The Floodlight controller code was released in January, and by June it had been downloaded more than 1,200 times. In the wake of the Nicira deal, interest in SDNs has soared, and now Floodlight has had over 6,000 downloads through August and counts over 10,000 as of today – not bad for a product that has not yet been commercially released by a company that is still operating in stealth mode.

Interestingly, Floodlight supports Open vSwitch, the virtual switch created by Nicira and adopted years ago by Citrix Systems for its XenServer stack. Open vSwitch is a virtual switch that runs inside a hypervisor that can, like other physical switches that support OpenFlow, be reconfigured on the fly.

In the case of Nicira, Open vSwitch was designed to go alongside its Network Virtualization Platform (NVP), which like other OpenFlow controllers breaks the control plane out of the physical switch and separates it from the forwarding plane, centralizing all of the control planes and making them programmable, adjustable, and automated.

The idea is to make the network programmable regardless of who is making the switches and routers, and whether they are physical or virtual devices, paralleling the virtualization of compute and storage.

Big Switch says the dough will be used to expand its engineering, sales, and marketing teams, which it is surely going to have to do to compete with the likes of VMware and Cisco, who have their own takes on virtual switching, as well as others including HP, IBM, and NEC.

Big Switch is obviously a possible acquisition target, with switch-newbie Dell in most need of an SDN story to tell. ®

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