Big Switch: To Floodlight and Beyond!

As one of the founding members of the Floodlight team, I’ve spent the past few months deeply immersed in OpenFlow and SDN, working closely with developers from major networking vendors, cloud providers, research institutions, and universities.  I’ve also been slammed speaking to enterprise datacenter operators and cloud providers about how SDN gives them the flexibility, value, and vendor choice they have been seeking in their networks.

Things have been moving so quickly that while I could sense an ecosystem forming around the Floodlight project, it was only after stepping back a bit that I realized how large it had become.

Consider:

1. Floodlight has been downloaded over 6000 times since its January launch.

2. Floodlight includes the largest commercial user base of any SDN controller, including Arista Networks, Brocade, Dell, Extreme Networks, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Intel, Juniper Networks, and Microsoft (to name a few).

3. Floodlight has taken over the top search result for “floodlight” (trumped only by a few advertisements for lamps and lighting fixtures).

In fact, we have been so successful with Floodlight that occasionally I talk to Big Switch customers and partners who believe Floodlight is the only software project that our company is building.  While Floodlight is an absolutely essential piece of Open Software Defined Networking, we are actually building a compelling set of commercial products around the Floodlight platform.  Let me explain this in a bit more detail.

Big Switch Controller

Big Switch is building a commercial controller platform using the Floodlight platform as its core.  The controller, which is 100% API compatible with Floodlight, augments Floodlight with a number of enterprise-class production features centered around management tools, high availability, and scalability as well as enterprise service and support.  And, since our commercial controller is built on Floodlight, it can run any application in the Floodlight ecosystem without any code changes.

Our goal with Floodlight from the beginning has been to create a core that is small, rock solid, high performance, and standards compliant to make sure it’s flexible enough to handle all SDN use cases and support an ecosystem of developers.  This will remain a guiding principle in deciding how we develop Floodlight and our commercial controller.

Network Virtualization

Big Switch offers a commercial network virtualization product built on top of the Big Switch controller.  Like compute virtualization, network virtualization creates an abstraction layer on top of physical and hypervisor-based networking devices, creating programmable virtual networks.  These virtual networks, just like their analogues (ie. virtual machines) in the compute world, can then be automatically managed and provisioned as cloud resources without manual intervention.

Network virtualization has the potential to create tremendous gains in operational efficiency in managing cloud infrastructure.  By eliminating the boundaries imposed by physical networks, network virtualization allows cloud administrators to maximize resource utilization of their servers by moving virtual machines and spreading workloads throughout a datacenter.  In fact, in one particular cloud provider we’ve worked with, we found our network virtualization software could achieve a 50% increase in the number of virtual machines run on the same hardware.

Big Switch Networks in fact is the first and only SDN vendor to offer both overlay and physically integrated approaches to network virtualization.  While we can of course support overlay networks using a number of popular tunneling protocols (GRE, CAPWAP, VXLAN, etc.), we can also leverage OpenFlow technology to efficiently connect physical switches, servers, and layer 4-7 devices to virtual networks as well.   In fact, our platform is flexible enough to mix and match these technologies, leveraging OpenFlow where its available and building overlays as needed.  This connection of physical and hypervisor switches in network virtualization is unique in the industry.

Other SDN Applications

While we are investing heavily in building the best network virtualization technology in the world, the promise of Software-Defined Networking actually extends to other use cases in the network as well.  Like many developers and partners in the Floodlight ecosystem, we are building a powerful set of SDN applications to solve different problems facing network administrators today.   We’ll be announcing these over the coming year.

I hope this gives you a better sense of all the different things going on at Big Switch.  While I’m particularly proud that with Floodlight we’ve created the largest ecosystem of any SDN controller, we’re really building some of the best SDN applications in the world as well.

Mike Cohen
Big Switch Networks