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Last week at Structure 2011, networking was a hot topic, not just because it’s a big business, but because as virtualization runs rampant and the number of devices and servers out there increase, the underlying premises of networking has shifted. As Jayshree Ullal of Arista network pointed out in a chat with me, networking traffic is moving between servers now as opposed to between clients and servers, which changes the way networks are designed.
In addition, the proliferation of virtual machines and the need for agility are driving the search for technologies to help split networking hardware such as switches and routers from the software-derived actions such as load balancing and even allocating physical resources. One such method of doing this is via OpenFlow, a protocol pioneered at Stanford. But OpenFlow is just one aspect of this shift to network virtualization, and may not even become the enabling protocol behind it.
However, Big Switch Networks, a networking company created by Guido Appenzeller and Kyle Forster that launched at Structure 2011, hopes OpenFlow does become the basis for this shift. The company, which raised $14 million from Index Ventures and Khosla Ventures since its founding in May 2010, wants to use OpenFlow to offer network virtualization. It’s hoping to offer controllers that allow for software-defined networking based on the OpenFlow protocol, and is taking a less-enterprise focused approach when compared to rival firm Nicira (which is in stealth mode). Appenzeller worked to develop the OpenFlow protocol, so is familiar with both the technology and the problem set.
As more and more of these firms come out of stealth mode, we’ll see exactly what the new split in networking has to offer, but in the meantime, check out this panel from Structure with Big Switch’s Appenzeller, Nicira’s CTO Martin Casado and Dante Malagrinò, the CEO of Embrane discussing the opportunity.