2013 is certainly starting off well for companies in the software-defined networking (SDN) space--just this week we have witnessed both an acquisition and an investment as more vendors seek to take part in this emerging market.
First we witnessed technology giant Intel dip its toes into the SDN market with a 6.5 million dollar investment into Big Switch Networks. This is an add-on to their Series B they announced last year and brings the total investment in the company up to $45 million. Big Switch has developed an open flow based controller that it is taking to market as an independent vendor. However, it faces stiff competition from a number of network vendors with their own, like NEC (GA for two years), IBM, HP, and even Cisco (who just announced an expanded role for their controller last week). It is likely they will need that war chest to compete with these major network vendors or look to make themselves more attractive to those network vendors still shopping for controller strategy. Big Switch is attractive not only for its open flow controller technology, but also for the application ecosystem it is developing to bring solutions to market.
Next was the announcement that F5 was taking a more aggressive approach to the SDN market by acquiring LineRate, a company that provides software based network services. The technology was developed out of the University of Colorado and they targeted solving problems in large, complex service provider network and application environments. Their goal is to provide software solutions to help organizations better scale and automate their environments by leveraging a flexible and extremely programmable LineRate Operating System or LROS. One example of their technology is the LineRate Proxy which focuses on what it refers to as “intelligent policy based traffic management” for service provider environments. It should be noted that as more enterprise organizations consolidate data centers and build them out as multi-tenant environments, they will begin to look a lot more like a service provider environment.
F5 took the position that SDN was good for L2-3 services, but emphasized that organizations would require separate services for L4-7, especially L7, something they refer to as an Application Services Fabric. This sets the stage for F5 to utilize its experience and market position to create and drive what may essentially be an application level controller to deliver services at L7. The LineRate acquisition gives them tested and proven solutions that can be leveraged for not only service providers, but given F5's resources, the enterprise as well.
LineRate was an impressive company as a startup and the additional resources of F5 should only help to drive greater adoption of its solutions. F5 should be able to leverage the proven technology to help solidify its application services fabric/software-defined networking solution. Given that one of the most discussed applications or use cases for SDN is load balancing, it is good to see F5 taking a more aggressive approach to SDN or application services fabrics. I look forward to hearing more from then on how they differentiate the two spaces and why there is a need to do so.