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Dell's Open Networking Vision Advances with Software-Defined Networking Partnership

Dell wants to let companies mix and match disaggregated networking hardware and software components as needed, taking advantage of virtualization and SDN.

Dell signed on another partner in its effort to shake up the enterprise networking industry with its vision of open networking, which lets companies mix and match disaggregated networking hardware and software components as needed, taking advantage of virtualization and software-defined networking (SDN).

The company today said it will resell software from Big Switch Networks, an early adopter of SDN technology, with its open networking S4810 and S6000 switches. In January, it announced an agreement with Cumulus Networks to offer that company's Linux OS as an option for those switches.

Today's agreement calls for Dell to resell Big Switch Networks' SDN controller application, Big Tap Monitoring, along with its Switch Light networking OS.

The SDN -- or the software-defined datacenter -- movements are disrupting the traditional, proprietary, three-tier enterprise networking model. But those movements themselves are in flux, with many different vendors offering many different philosophies and solutions. Here's Dell's take on the matter:

For decades, the networking industry has been stuck in the mainframe-era mentality with a proprietary, monolithic structure built for pre-virtualized, client-server implementations using chassis-based switches. The shift toward SDN in the datacenter represents the most transformative architectural trend delivering enhanced network agility, choice and optimized network operations for customers. Open networking contributes to the significant disruption occurring within the industry to more easily and efficiently deploy, monitor and adjust network services and performance.

Dell positioned its open networking philosophy as lying between two opposite approaches: the "white box" or "bare metal" approach in which commodity hardware is fitted with third-party software, such as a networking OS or SDN controller; and the "black box" approach in which everything in the network is supplied by one provider, such as traditional, brand-name networking vendors.

The Dell open networking vision
[Click on image for larger view.] The Dell Open Networking Vision
(source: Dell)

Big Switch Networks, which bills itself as the "Bare Metal SDN company," fits into Dell's open networking initiative with its SDN Fabric solutions embracing "industry standards, open APIs, open source and vendor-neutral support for both physical and virtual networking infrastructure."

The company said its Big Tap advanced monitoring software uses SDN architecture to tap into traffic at any place in the network and provide it to any tools used for troubleshooting, network or application monitoring, or security.

"The early adopters of SDN were largely the hyperscale players," said Douglas Murray, CEO of Big Switch Networks. "But with the advent of initiatives such as open networking from Dell, the path for all enterprises to enjoy the benefits of SDN is getting easier. The joint solutions coming from the Dell and Big Switch partnership will bring hyperscale datacenter design and choice to a broader audience."

The companies rounded up a joint customer, Clemson University, to vouch for their new combined approach. "The future is SDN-based with open software and hardware, said Jim Bottum, CIO of Clemson. "We need a practical way to get from here to there. Currently, we purchase Dell and Big Switch Networks products independently. Having them team for a fully integrated, tested and supported solution is ideal. To me, it's a great example of the new Dell investing in research and development to help us bridge the gap between traditional networking and SDN."

Dell said it will begin selling its switches bundled with Big Switch Networks software sometime this quarter.

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for 1105 Media.

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