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The role of startups in the SDN networking revolution

Arif Janmohamed | May 14, 2013
For decades the leading network companies have been tightly coupling their software to complex, custom-built chips. Besides leaving IT buyers with a staggering array of appliances, the reliance on custom silicon has chilled industry startup activity. But with software defined networking, that is beginning to change.

What's more, there are many opportunities for new companies to innovate. As we move to a more virtual, dynamic data center, each layer in the seven-layer network stack -- dominated today by multibillion dollar companies such as Cisco, Juniper, F5 and Check Point -- goes up for grabs. By our estimates, $35 billion in IT spend can be disrupted by SDN technologies, which means that upward of $150 billion in market value can be created over the next few years.

The big opportunity for entrepreneurs is to rethink and re-architect every network service using SDN constructs -- separation of the control and data plane built on a commodity hardware stack, elastic, on-demand scaling, and simplified management and configuration.

We've already seen multiple startups emerge to reinvent core network services such as security, load balancing and switching in a distributed, highly elastic manner. For example, Nicira (acquired by VMware) started the trend by innovating at the lowest layers of the network stack, allowing for a programmable, software based network; Embrane is re-architecting load balancing and security for the cloud; Plexxi is reinventing the top of the rack switch; And Pertino is reinventing the wide area network for the cloud era.

We are in the early innings of the network revolution and I am confident that the next five years will bring even more innovation as entrepreneurs continue to rethink the networking space. It's not often that multibillion-dollar markets are disrupted by a confluence of hardware trends, software innovations, and the determination of a group of visionary entrepreneurs. This should be fun to watch.


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