Big Switch CEO Growing an SDN Startup

In the growing Software Defined Networking (SDN) space, startup Big Switch has emerged as a key player. The company’s roots lay at the very foundation of the SDN and OpenFlow revolution and it is now powering forward with a newly launched portfolio of commercial products.

Guido Appenzeller is the CEO of Big Switch and was formerly the leader of Guido Appenzeller Big Switchthe Stanford lab that pioneered the OpenFlow protocol. Most major networking vendors now in some manner have plans to support OpenFlow. Not all networking vendors however are currently partnered with Big Switch, though many are. One obvious omission from Big Switch’s current partner list is networking giant Cisco.

“I think that Cisco has been a bit slower than other companies to dip their toe into the SDN waters, ” Appenzeller told EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet. “As the dominant player in the space, a major disruption has the potential for harm.”

That said, in Appenzeller sees SDN as a large opportunity for Cisco. It’s a view that Cisco now shares as well. Cisco recently announced its SDN strategy under the banner of the Cisco ONE initiative.

“Over time, I could see Cisco as a partner,” Appenzeller said.

Operational Challenges

As a startup, Big Switch faces a number of challenges as it aims to ramp up its business. One of the company’s biggest issues is that of scaling its own organizational structure.

“We have grown very quickly in the past few months,” Appenzeller said. “We have a very high bar when it comes to hiring.”

Currently 40 percent of Big Switch’s employee base holds a PhD, including key engineers that have helped to pioneer to SDN. The company aims to find the absolute best people it can find in the industry. Appenzeller said that Big Switch has the resources to hire nearly anyone it wants too, but finding people is still a challenge. For much of Big Switch’s history the company was hiring on the engineering side and is now ramping up on the sales and marketing side.

Exit Strategy

As a hot company in growing market, Big Switch as a company might represent a juicy acquisition target from a larger networking vendor. That’s currently not necessarily the route that Appenzeller wants to take his company.

“Right now we’re building this as a standalone company,” Appenzeller said. “Really the goal is to take this to the next level, build our customer and revenue base.”

“Obviously the IPO path is what we are aspiring too and would love to do,” Appenzeller added.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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