Big Switch Switches SDN Direction, Staying Independent

Networking startup Big Switch is a pioneer in the emerging Software Defined Networking (SDN) space, with its open source Floodlight controller among its key successes. The journey for Big Switch hasn’t all been a bed of roses and the company is now aiming to switch things up a bit as it re-positions for continued growth and success.

“We used to talk about the idea of a three tier architecture with a data plane, the controller tier and the SDN applications riding on top,” Kyle Forster, President and Co-founder of Big Switch told EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet. “The reality of the last two years is that to actually get that all to work has been very difficult.”

Forster added that the running joke internally at Big Switch was that SDN is for the one percenters, since there were so few people that were actually able to put together a properly functioning SDN deployment.

Big Switch began to launch its commercial product portfolioat the end of 2012. Forster noted that his initial customer set wass a deeply skilled one but as the company went out to the broader market, they came to the realization that they needed to more packaged for easier consumption. That realization has led to a retooling of the Big Switch portfolio.

“The conclusion that we’ve come too, is rather than having a three-tier architecture, we want to streamline the process and want to split the whole thing out to hardware versus software,” Forster said.

Networking customers can buy bare metal switch hardware from ODMs (Original Device Manufacturers) that include a boot loader. That bare metal switch can discover a controller on the network and download an operating system.

“The controller comes with the application already embedded and the whole process is zero-touch,” Forster said. “You get the switches, you rack and stack them, discover the controller, they download the OS and they start running OpenFlow.”

The bare metal switch approach that is able to download and configure its own operating system is also part of a Facebook Open Compute Project effort where Big Switch is a key contributor. In May of this year, the Open Compute Project launched its networking effort in a bid to open up the networking market.


One of Big Switch’s commercial product, the Big Tap networking monitoring solution is doing particularly well. On the other side, Big Switch’s network virtualization platform is going back to the drawing board.

Forster explained that the Big Switch ‘P+V’ switching product is now back in beta. The ‘P+V’ approach is somewhat different than what VMware is offering with its recently announced NSX network virtualization approach.

“What we’re proposing with P+V is a single controller that is talking to the virtual hypervisors as well as the physical switches,” Forster explained. “We think we’re a bit unique that way.”

Staying Independent

As a startup in a high-profile rapidly emerging space, rumors and talk about acquisitions are always present. In the case of Big Switch, Forster said that he can’t comment any particular rumors. That said, he added that now would not be a good time to sell that company and it is an exciting time for growth and future opportunity.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

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