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10 Software Defined Networking Startups to Watch

Jeff Vance | Aug. 23, 2013
As the software-defined data center evolves from dream to reality, many Software Defined Networking (SDN) startups are being snatched up by established networking vendors. Here are nine SDN startups (and an important new standards body) that intend to push SDN into the mainstream.

Founded: 2010

Funding: More than $45 million. The most recent investment was a $6.5 million Series-B follow-on from Intel capital, an investment that closed in February. Previous backers include Goldman Sachs, Redpoint Ventures and Khosla Ventures.

Why they're on this list: According to Big Switch, the networking industry has been stuck in the mainframe era, wedded to vertically integrated hardware and software systems that are built upon proprietary architectures and are substantially the same as they were decades ago. These legacy network architectures create operational fragility, drive excessively long provisioning times and result in unnecessarily high operational costs.

Big Switch argues that the best replacement for all of this is OpenFlow-based software abstraction layer between the network control plane and underlying data forwarding plane, including both physical and virtual devices. An open platform with centralized software provisioning delivers improvements in network agility through programmability and automation, while substantially reducing the costs of network operations. By using an industry standard data plane abstraction protocol like OpenFlow, data center operators are now free to use any type and brand of data plane device, since all the underlying network hardware is addressable through a common abstraction protocol.

OpenFlow facilitates the use of bare-metal switches and eliminates traditional vendor lock-in, giving end users freedom of choice in networking similar to what they've recently gained in other areas of IT infrastructure, such as servers.

In November 2012, Big Switch's started shipping its first products: an OpenFlow-based controller, a unified network-monitoring application, and an SDN network-virtualization switch.

Competitive Landscape: They will compete against VMware (Nicira acquisition), Brocade (Vyatta acquisition), Midokura, Embrane and PLUMgrid.

3. Embrane

What they do: Deliver Layer 3-7 SDN services to enterprises and service providers.

Headquarters: Santa Clara, Calif.

CEO: Dante Malagrino, who previously spent 10+ years at Cisco, where he was part of the team that built the catalyst 6500 family of switches and later was a founding member of Andiamo, a Cisco storage networking spinoff.

Founded: 2009

Funding: $27 million in total funding ($9 million series A; $18 million series B) from New Enterprise Associates, Lightspeed Venture Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners.

Why they're on this list: Enterprise networks are currently controlled by internal networking teams, but once they are virtualized, the systems engineers start to lobby for control. Networking teams believe the intelligence needs to remain within the network core (as it does today), while systems teams believe we should move the intelligence (routing tables, firewalls, etc.) to the edge, closely tying them to the hypervisor.

Embrane tackles this conflict with solutions that allow for the agility expected form virtualized environments, but which also allow networking intelligence to stay within the network core, since these teams already have the expertise to manage it all. The company's flagship product, heleos, is a multi-service, distributed software platform for powering software-defined network services, including server load balancers, firewalls, VPN termination and SSL offload.


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