Big Switch Networks: Weaving Hyperscale Networks

Douglas Murray, CEO Each time someone hits the search button on Google or Facebook, the most automated data center networks in the world—designed by Big Switch Networks (BSN)—begins to weave its magic. With common internet users, mostly unaware, BSN swiftly empowers a mainstream data center audience, at the back-end, by harnessing the power of hyperscale-inspired networking technologies. The company delivers state-of-the-art networking fabrics for the world’s most advanced global data centers that wish to achieve high degrees of network automation at cloud-competitive price points. “At Big Switch, we understand the importance of innovation velocity in networking,” says Douglas Murray, CEO at BSN. “Our focus strategically revolves around adding transformational capabilities in support of our mission to make hyperscale-inspired networking available to everyone.”

With roots in the original Stanford research team that invented Software Defined Networking (SDN), the company is one of the original SDN pioneers and has the industry’s broadest portfolios of enabling technologies for SDN. Today, BSN is at the forefront of the next-generation of networking technologies, combining the network commodity switch hardware (white box/brite box) with sophisticated SDN control software. By packaging its networking technology components into bare metal SDN fabric solutions, the company brings together the most advanced feature sets of SDN. BSN’s bare metal SDN fabrics—Big Cloud Fabric (BCF) and Big Monitoring Fabric (BMF)—leverage the company’s Switch Light technology, sharing the same codebase and operational model across a range of physical hardware platforms and hypervisors. In conjunction with a centralized SDN controller, the Switch Light technology enables dramatic reductions in the cost of network operations and eliminates time-consuming manual procedures through its central provisioning, automation, and troubleshooting operations.

Next-Gen Data Center Switching Fabric

BCF is one of the first data center switching fabric built using open networking switches and SDN controller technology. Embracing hyperscale data center design principles, the BCF solution enables rapid innovation, ease of provisioning and management, while reducing overall costs, making it ideal for current and next generation data centers. BCF is designed from the ground up to satisfy the requirements of physical, virtual, cloud and containerized workloads. BCF can be easily deployed in existing (brownfield) data centers, as a pod fabric. It supports full communication between modern BCF pod and legacy networks via a core router.

BCF is available in two different architectures—Physical Fabric and Physical + Virtual Fabric. The logical chassis (Physical Fabric) architecture— or a one logical pod switch—enables data center users to construct high-performance, resilient, and pay-as-you-scale pod fabrics. The SDN controller (chassis supervisor) is a critical and necessary component without which the chassis disaggregation is not possible.

Our focus strategically revolves around adding transformational capabilities in support of our mission to make hyperscale-inspired networking available to everyone

It enables zero-touch fabric operations, single-point of fabric management, and centralized fabric analytics, thus significantly speeding up application deployment and reducing operational costs. Moreover, with hardware/software disaggregation, BCF supports a variety of high-performance (10G/40G), high-density switch hardware, which enables tremendous capex cost optimization.

In one of the instances, CleanSafeCloud, one of BSN’s clients, wanted to setup a highly reliable, cloud-based Object Storage infrastructure to reduce its networking TCO. CleanSafeCloud was looking for a solution that would allow them to quickly upgrade their data center networking infrastructure by leveraging open Ethernet switch hardware, SDN software, and avoiding vendor lock-in. CleanSafeCloud used BCF starter kit to build its initial production network. With BCF, CleanSafeCloud was not only happy with the capex savings, but also the operational efficiencies achieved through a single pane of glass management. “Setting up BCF was nothing short of amazing. Once the cabling is done, it’s literally ‘write down MAC address, switch on, grab a cup of coffee, and wait for the magic to happen’. In well under two hours, we had a hyperscale grade ultra performant cloud fabric up and running,” says Christian Sarrasin, CEO, CleanSafeCloud.

Seamless Network Monitoring

The BMF delivers advanced monitoring functionality at whitebox economics— ensuring data center wide network visibility and troubleshooting coverage to ensure an optimal mean time to repair (MTTR). For organizations, the BMF is available in two different editions—‘Out-Of–Band’ and ‘Inline’. The BMF Out-Of-Band Edition is a next-generation Network Packet Broker (NPB) that’s been designed from the ground-up to build a pervasive visibility and security fabric. Using the SDN-centric architecture, BMF provides a scale-out fabric for enterprise-wide monitoring, operational simplicity, and multi-tenancy for multiple IT teams (NetOps, DevOps, and SecOps) to simultaneously perform network monitoring using out-of-band or inline tools and policies. “We are able to provide our customers with the best options for their specific needs, including SDN-based data center fabric optimized for VMware workloads, scalable OpenStack NFV deployments, next-generation Out-Of-Band network monitoring, and a scalable SDN service-chaining fabric for DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) security,” says Murray.

The BMF Inline Edition is a next-generation NPB that’s been designed from the ground-up to create simplified, policy-based security chains at scale, and across shared tools for interested in line traffic in the DMZ or Extranet areas.
The BMF Inline Edition shares the same BMF Controller as the Out-Of-Band Edition, providing pervasive security and visibility for the entire organization. The Inline Edition architecture employs a flexible, scale-out yet simplified design for chaining security tools, while leveraging low-cost, high-performance (10G/40G/100G) Ethernet switches. The BMF Controller’s SDN principles provide highly resilient architecture as organizations continually assess and deploy security countermeasures against evolving cyber attacks.

In one instance, Intuit, one of BSN’s clients operating in the business and financial management space, wanted to create an environment that can ensure quick and efficient monitoring of the company’s multiple data centers. Intuit also required a solution that could economically scale the company’s security tools to accommodate its growing cloud and mobile delivery model. “We wanted more points of input than our traditional NPB could handle economically,” says Ted Turner, Senior Network Engineer, Intuit. “So, we decided to go with a white box solution and BSN’s BMF to gather packets and forward them to the tools as needed.” Each of Intuit’s teams can now create their own policies directly from the BMF controller and deliver all needed traffic to their tools. This role-based access eliminates ticket creation workflows and enables more productivity, as teams have immediate access to needed traffic data.

Future Networking Prospects

Core to the company’s engineering philosophy is a component-based approach, where open source and commercial modules exist side-by-side. When this approach is combined with the strong ethics of BSN’s engineering design, it leads to a higher quality product experience in the near term, faster innovation in the mid term, and more customer choice in the long term. Also, with the emergence of Data Center/Operating System (DC/OS), and SDN fabrics, BSN looks forward to a cohesive approach to deploying modern applications as well as container environments, such as Docker and Kubernetes, at scale and with attractive TCO. DC/OS—an open-source cluster-level OS that leverages Apache Mesos— enables a modern design for computing by constructing one logical (super) computer from standards-based servers.

"By packaging its networking technology components into bare metal SDN fabric solutions, BSN brings together the most advanced feature sets of SDN"

This is particularly appealing because at BSN, the teams use concepts of SDN and CLOS fabrics to construct one logical (chassis) switch from standards-based open networking switches. The combination of DC/ OS and Big Switch’s BCF is optimal for designing modern data center clusters (or pods), while ensuring attractive economics and complete vendor choice for both hardware and software. “We will continue to earn the trust of our customers around the world who are increasingly selecting BSN’s technologies to modernize their data centers,” says Murray. Forging ahead, the company envisions a massive shift away from the complex and brittle legacy environments to more modern and transformative designs for computing and networking.

Big Switch Networks

Santa Clara, CA

Douglas Murray, CEO

Provides open networking switching fabric intended for new data center pods such as private cloud, big data, and VDI