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SDN trailblazer Big Switch Networks launches in UK

Having established a base of paying customers through a key partnership with Dell, SDN supplier Big Switch Networks is opening its first European offices and gunning for Cisco’s ACI business

Software-defined networking (SDN) pioneer Big Switch Networks is firing up to formally launch its business in the UK and Europe, with its sights set firmly on making a dent in Cisco’s growing Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) business.

Big Switch has technically been available in the UK for some time, via an established partnership with Dell, which resells its Big Cloud Fabric product as an option on its 1/10GbE and 10/40GbE Open Networking switch lines. Big Cloud Fabric is a datacentre fabric built using open networking switches and SDN controller technology.

However, marketing vice-president and CMO Gregg Holzrichter said Big Switch is now spending close to $50m raised through its recent Series C funding round on establishing sales, marketing and support operations to expand its customer-facing activity in the UK and Europe.

Speaking exclusively to Computer Weekly, Holzrichter said the firm will target customers in verticals, such as the public sector and higher education, technology, financial services and manufacturing, as well as communications service providers (CSPs), which are in the vanguard of SDN and network function virtualisation (NFV) adoption.

US CSP Verizon is one such customer, layering the Big Cloud Fabric with Red Hat’s OpenStack Platform and Dell switching to create one of the largest NFV OpenStack cloud deployments across five datacentres earlier this year.

Verizon’s project used Big Switch’s Big Cloud Fabric for SDN controller software managing Dell switches, which are orchestrated by Red Hat OpenStack Platform, and is typical of the sort of opportunity where Big Switch has done well so far.

“Service providers are coming up with new ways of delivering services to compete with public cloud,” said Holzrichter. “There is a real urgency right now to deliver more agility in their networks and they are very open to looking at next-generation networking opportunities.

“We hope to bring a modern approach to networking similar to how VMware brought a modern approach to compute. We are bringing automation and agility to networking teams and making it easier to work with IT admins by automating tedious tasks.”

Challenging Cisco

Although it also runs on industry standard whitebox switching systems from the likes of Accton, Edgecore and Quanta, it is Big Cloud Fabric’s integration with Dell – and, by extension, with VMware products such as NSX and VSphere through Dell’s ownership of EMC – on which Big Switch is pinning its hopes of causing major disruption in the European networking market.

Holzrichter said people tend to think of the SDN market as a straight fight between Cisco ACI and VMware NSX, but that is not really accurate because ACI is more of a physical network solution and NSX a virtual one. “Because we compete as a physical SDN network, Big Cloud Fabric is really the only open alternative to Cisco ACI,” said Holzrichter, himself a former VMware executive.

“We compete vigorously against Cisco ACI and give Dell a bigger opportunity to win datacentre deals because of the next-generation networking approach,” he added.

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One of Big Switch’s stated goals is to be considered one of the top three SDN players – alongside Cisco and VMware. Holzrichter said the increasing amount of noise Cisco has been making around ACI is helping Big Switch achieve this aim.

“We are enjoying the benefits of larger companies educating the market about the need for a new way to do networking,” he said. “People go down the path of exploring Cisco, then they do a Google search or talk to their peers. Our opportunity is to be brought up in those conversations as an alternative.

“We are introduced into a number of competitive bake-offs with Cisco ACI, and that is a big part of why Dell values us – we keep them differentiated and relevant. Big Cloud Fabric and Dell have a compelling win rate against ACI.”

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