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VMblog's Expert Interviews: Big Switch Networks Talks Big Cloud Fabric, VMware NSX and Software-Defined Networking

Interview BigSwitch

With VMworld quickly approaching, there are a lot of hot technologies out there to try and wrap your head around, far and beyond the staple of server virtualization.  Attendees will see and hear a lot about Software-Defined Datacenter, Software-Defined Networking, and VMware NSX at the show.  But to get a jump start at learning more about these technologies, I went to one of the experts, Gregg Holzrichter, Chief Marketing Officer at Big Switch Networks.

VMblog:  What is Big Cloud Fabric (BCF) and how is it differentiated from traditional data center networking solutions?

Big Switch:  In order to meet business demands for faster, more flexible and agile infrastructure for applications, the concept of an Software Defined Datacenter (SDDC) is very appealing, however traditional box-by-box, hardware-defined networks have proven to be a complete mis-match to modern SDDC requirements. Using the traditional gear and way of networking, network admins still have to manually log in and administer physical hardware with proprietary CLIs and management consoles on a per-switch basis, because legacy network management tools have not evolved from the CLI over the past 20 years, and network designs are often overly complicated at the physical and logical levels. This is both inefficient and inflexible.

Big Cloud Fabric (BCF) in contrast is a highly differentiated data center switching fabric that delivers zero-touch operations and network automation via an agile, SDN-based approach to physical network management. BCF incorporates network design principles that hyperscalers like Google and Facebook pioneered to build agile and flexible network architectures, via open networking hardware, core-and-pod design and SDN management to achieve dramatic improvements in network operational efficiency. BCF offers the same order of magnitude gains in network agility and ease of network operations to any organization, regardless of scale. BCF software is deployed on industry-standard open networking hardware from Dell EMC, and HPE Altoline.

BCF excels in ease of use and manageability by making it 8x faster for initial setup for VMware networks, 12x faster to configure, deploy applications & troubleshoot, and 30x faster to upgrade than traditional networks, per ACG Research analysis. BCF is the first solution that delivers networking at the speed of virtualization.

VMblog:  How does BCF integrate into a VMware environment?

Big Switch:  In VMware environments, BCF connects with the VMware vCenter API to provide physical network automation and end-to-end network visibility for VMware vSphere. BCF is an ideal SDN-based fabric underlay for VMware NSX network virtualization deployments, and provides networking automation and simplicity to VMware vSAN environments.

The BCF controller acts as a single point of API integration with vCenter versus many per-box API integration in traditional box-by-box networking.  This highly optimized approach ensures performance-centric API responsiveness and scaling. The BCF controller integration scales to many vCenters simultaneously without conflict. This unique capability enables vSphere, NSX, vSAN and VIO environments to coexist within the same BCF pod, allowing multiple logical tenants managed by a single SDN controller, supporting multiple orchestrators on a single physical network. 

With BCF installed on the physical hardware creating a modern leaf-spine network, both network and virtualization admins benefit from unprecedented visibility and advanced analytics, which enable fabric-wide troubleshooting-offering operational simplicity compared to legacy approaches.

Big Cloud Fabric manages all L2 and L3 networking components that constitute the fabric as "one logical Big Switch." In this way, network resources are seamlessly delivered at the same speed and in the same vCenter workflow that vAdmins provision VMs, all with high performance and scale across orchestration environments.

VMblog:  Why would someone use BCF in conjunction with NSX and do they need both?  What are the benefits?

Big Switch:  When deploying NSX-v based overlay for network virtualization and/or micro-segmentation, network teams are often concerned about box-by-box physical networks being opaque to overlays. Architecturally, NSX, being an SDN overlay operating as one logical v-switch, is best served by an SDN underlay operating as one logical p-switch like BCF.  When BCF is deployed with vCenter and VMware NSX for network virtualization, all the advanced automation benefits from the BCF integration with vCenter are available to the network. When NSX creates a virtual switch port-group with an assigned transport VLAN for the VTEPs on each of the ESXi hosts, BCF automates the provisioning of the corresponding logical segment for the transport VLAN to enable VTEP communication. It also auto-learns all the VTEP endpoints and the VMs behind the VTEPs. BCF is the ideal SDN underlay and physical networking layer for all VMware workloads.

VMblog:  What is the advantage to deploying BCF in vSAN environments?

Big Switch:  With the distributed nature of hyper-converged solutions and an increase in east-west traffic between storage nodes, the role of physical network becomes extremely critical. During deployment and operation, vSAN and network admins will face cross-silo interaction challenges that will ultimately slow the project down. If you're an admin trying to deploy vSAN, the last thing you want to worry about is your network configuration. Typical tasks like attaching vSAN nodes (ESXi hosts in vSAN cluster) to leaf switches, configuring VLANs and enabling multicast take time and are error-prone when done manually. If you are a network admin, you are probably tired of responding to tickets asking to provision the "plumbing." We often hear that network admins just want to respond with "don't come to me for VLANs!" While some of the tasks may be automated using scripts or templates inside a bolted-on management solution, they take time to validate and have to be maintained.

With vSAN running on top of traditional box-by-box networks, vSAN admin is left to hope and pray that network admin did not mis-configure anything. How does a network admin prove that network is not the culprit? It often takes days of back and forth communication between network and storage teams to root cause the problem. VMware recently released vSAN 6.2 with many useful cluster troubleshooting tools. BCF + vSAN solution builds on these tools to further reduce troubleshooting time. With controller providing full network visibility, vSAN admin can use BCF plug-in for vSphere Web Client to zero-in on exact problem area instead of simply knowing that there is a problem.

VMblog:  What does the future look like for Big Switch and the networking industry?

Big Switch:  Big Switch recently announced its fiscal year results, growing over 100% year over year, closing an additional $30m in funding, and announced a new reseller partnership with HPE, delivering next-generation SDN software on the Altoline series of switches. This strategic relationship will dramatically expand the reach of these production ready, modern networking solutions. Big Switch has continued to drive significant revenue growth in both enterprise and service providers with its partnership with Dell EMC, inked 2½ years ago and continuing to gain momentum globally.

Big Switch has continued to build a channel to resell a "Google Switch" version of its solution, powered by Edge Core white box switches and Big Switch software. All three partnerships provide additional validation for the strengthening trend around network disaggregation - the separation of industry standard switching hardware from differentiated Network OS and SDN controller software. Big Switch partners closely with VMware and Red Hat to support OpenStack and container networking with OpenShift.

Big Switch plans to continue to disrupt the traditional datacenter switching market as an open, simple to deploy and operate alternative to Cisco ACI, while taking additional market share from the traditional network packet broker (NPB) monitoring market with its next generation visibility and security fabrics, providing per VM and tap-every-rack visibility for the SDDC.


Published Thursday, August 24, 2017 8:16 AM by David Marshall
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