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Big Switch Networks CTO Rob Sherwood on SDN in 2015: The time is now

Art Fewell | March 10, 2015
I recently had the chance to sit down with Rob Sherwood, CTO of Big Switch Networks to get his insight on whats hot with SDN for 2015.

The incentive in the right place for a company like Big Switch, we actually now produce our own switch operating system. We have Switch Light, it's built into all of our products. We can tune the SDN stack the way that we want it to be and actually produce good commercial products for people. We're really starting to see a lot of evidence of that and in I think 2015, it's going exponential so I'm pretty excited.

[Art] We have this challenge in that we're expecting new things to come to us in the way that they kind of always had. Or at least that's what we're used to. A lot of the new things are coming in ways that we don't expect. I think a lot of the ways that people will end up consuming SDN is actually going to be very different from past technologies. Some people will buy and SDN switch and deploy an SDN switch themselves as a typical enterprise customer. I think a lot of the ways where consumers are going to benefit from SDN, it's going to fall in behind the scenes maybe in some cases and be all over the place. I'm curious about your insight on that.

[Rob] Absolutely. I think you would know, Big Switch did a pivot about two years back. It really is exactly to the point that you're talking about. Which is SDN, before the pivot, we were treating it like a product. That is that, if we build the controller, then you the consumer can build applications and do the software integration to make this happen. Basically the experience that we found and I think the rest of the industry is slowly coming around to this is; very few consumers actually want to invest in software engineering and invest in the very difficult integration problem of trying to build up their own SDN solution. That's the domain for the Googles, and Facebooks, and Microsofts of the world but not really for even the vast majority of Fortune 500 customers.

What we're pivoting to and what we did two years ago and we're really starting to execute on this now, and it's exactly what you said. Which is, SDN is a technology where we provide the whole solution. We provide user experience, the application, the controller, and the switch side operating system so that you, the end user, don't have to invest in development teams, trying to figure out how to automate progression tests and a whole bunch of things that enterprises just traditionally aren't interested in doing.

[Art] Everyone wants the benefits of SDN, and I don't think they care exactly how those benefits get implemented. What they really want is an ability to push the easy button I think. It doesn't necessarily have to be all that easy, but I think today we're in this environment where we're looking and saying, "Wow, look at this. Some Google like company just implemented these really cool features I want. Oh, and by the way they're investing hundreds of people and millions of dollars to be able to accomplish that." There really hasn't been a good middle ground. It was like you either go really complex in trying the custom Linux OpenStack type of thing or you're back to commercial off-the-shelf. I think what you're describing sounds like the right fit. A way for people to get these benefits but not have to do their own solutions engineering and figure out every step.


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