In the emerging software-defined networking (SDN) market, where the OpenFlow protocol has generated a lot of hype, Big Switch is a prominent start-up. In an SDN network built with OpenFlow, the control plane of the switches and routers are abstracted into a centralized, server-based controller which defines flows for data forwarding based on a centralized view of the network topology. Big Switch, which hasn’t offered many details about the products it has in beta today, is presumed to be working on a commercial OpenFlow controller.
Why offer an open source version of the product?
“We see [software-defined networking] as a three-tier thing,” said Kyle Forster, Big Switch co-founder and vice president of sales and marketing. “At the bottom you have the data plane, the Ethernet switches and routers. The middle-tier is the controller, which is where Floodlight fits. The third tier is a set of applications on top of that controller. We play commercially in that application tier.”
In other words, when Big Switch starts shipping products, it will offer an OpenFlow controller, based on the open source Floodlight, with bundles of applications for running a software-defined network. That’s where the money will be made.
The applications that Big Switch and third-party developers can build on top of an OpenFlow controller can range from the rudimentary applications like multi-switch forwarding models and topology discovery to more advanced services, such as load balancing and firewalls.
Big Switch’s goal with the open source release is to get the code out into the public domain.
“By open sourcing that, you get two things. You get high quality code because it’s visible to everybody,” Forster said. “You also get a vast amount of community members downloading the thing and playing around with it. So it gets hardened very rapidly. It’s also useful for our partners. If a partner is going to build an application on top of our commercial controller, they want peace of mind that if they no longer want a commercial relationship with Big Switch, they have the opportunity to go down the open source path.”