Big Switch Networks, the software defined networking (SDN) company making a play on Cisco’s turf, has raised $6.5 million from Intel Capital. The investment brings the total amount raised to $45 million from investors including Goldman Sachs, Index Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Redpoint Ventures and others.
Big Switch is one of the up and comers in the new world of networking, a space that is pitting partners against each other and showing how the data center is transforming into a programmable computer more so than a clanking network of physical switches, cables and big boxes.
At its heart, Big Switch offers an open architecture that has a common data model. This simply means that it has developed ways to abstract the mechanics of what it once took to build a network. With that comes a host of different elements that integrate around its controller and open APIs.
As seen in the below graphic, Big Switch has a “three-tier architecture,” that works northbound with the application tier and southbound with the “data plane tier.”
Big Switch is in a delicate spot as it sits between VMware and Cisco, two legacy giants, who once looked like cheery pals but now are more rivals as they compete for the coming overhaul of the data center. That overhaul is necessary as the flow of data reaches ever more enormous scale. The new rivalry stems from VMware’s acquisition of SDN provider Nicira last summer for $1.26 billion. The acquisition shifted the balance between Cisco and VMware. In rosier times, VMware and its parent EMC had a pure storage play and Cisco focused on networking. They partnered and even formed an independent company called VCE. But as compute, storage and networking converged more broadly so did the two companies overlap in the marketplace.
At its heart, the fight for the data center is a battle for who can mix the new SDN technology with the old physical networks that companies have sunk millions into and can’t realistically throw in the trash heap. At least for now, companies will need money-saving software that can be dialed up or down depending on the load across the network.
Big Switch makes the case that it designed its networking technology based upon an emerging standard called OpenFlow that has won the attention of Internet scale companies like Google.
Cisco has in the past scoffed at SDN and OpenFlow. The company at one point even called OpenFlow an academic exercise.
But last week, J.P. Morgan issued a report that put Cisco on the spot. The investment bank pointed to VMware and Big Switch as major competitors who could challenge the networking giant’s place in the market.
Lo and behold, on Monday Cisco announced its own OpenFlow product as did Dell on Wednesday.
And now here comes Intel Capital, making an investment in Big Switch. That sends a message that Intel is putting its bet on a startup that has done more than any other in this space to develop an ecosystem of providers such as Juniper Networks, Arista and F5. The list also includes newcomers like Piston Cloud, which raised a new round this week, and Cloudscaling, which announced a new version of its cloud infrastructure on Thursday.
It would be absurd to count out Cisco. It has also made its own investments in open source efforts such as OpenStack and now OpenFlow. It is still the big giant of the group and will take much more than a competitor like Big Switch to have a meaningful impact on its future.