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Pica8 takes in $12.5M to popularize its operating system for software defined networking

Pica8, a startup that specializes in software defined networking (SDN), has landed $12.5 million in a series B round, bringing the company’s total funding to more than $20 million. The startup plans to use those funds to expand its staff from 12 employees in Palo Alto to 32 within the next few months and further keep its technology compatible with other SDN gear and applications, said Pica8 CEO and co-founder James Liao.

While Pica8 sells networking devices tailored to take advantage of SDN, its core technology is its custom operating system (OS) designed specifically for the chips that enable networking hardware to function, explained Liao. Similar to how operating systems found in most computers and CPUs are used to manage system resources like distributing memory, the ASIC chips typically found in SDN gear require their own OS that can take help them allocate resources as they pertain to networking activities like routing.

Pica8’s custom OS can supposedly be used to power up chips like Broadcom’s Trident II and its upcoming Tomahawk chip and can be migrated from chip to chip as well, said Liao. New chips coming from [company]Intel[/company] and [company]Marvell[/company] that are designed for data traffic management should be able to use the Pica8 OS as well.

With an OS that’s tailored for these kinds of chips, users will be able to better customize the software that works in tandem with the hardware without having to do extensive modifications, said Liao. You can think of it as similar to how [company]CoreOS[/company] has a custom OS for servers to make it easier for IT staff to maintain their machines without having to deal with some of the administrative legwork involved with using traditional Linux operating systems.

Pica8 CEO James Liao
Pica8 CEO James Liao

A good portion of Pica8’s funding round will be spent on making sure that its OS will be compatible with new SDN applications as they hit the marketplace. These software applications work with the hardware to enable features like intelligent network routing. For example, content providers that stream video — a task that consumes a lot of bandwidth — can use the software app to make sure that the video data is being transmitted in its own reserved network route, safely removed from other network traffic that may cause performance issues.

“We are enabling SDN so there could be thousands of applications in the future running on the OS,” said Liao. “Each application will need features we may not [currently] have.”

Liao admits that the SDN market is currently small and in its nascent stage of development, but he said he expects the networking architecture concept to gain traction in the coming years. He likens the rise of the SDN era as the rise of the PC era, which took roughly ten years to displace mainframe computing.

VantagePoint Capital Partners, Cross Head and Pacific Venture Partners drove the investment round.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock user Wutthichai.