ONUG CEO Corner Series: Interview with Big Switch Networks CEO Douglas Murray

This featured interview with Big Switch Networks CEO, Doug Murray, is a part of the ongoing ONUG CEO Corner Series.

In the last few years, the rise of cloud computing and its complexities has given rise to a crop of precocious start-ups, causing a gradual but dramatic shift in the networking industry.  

Most enterprises, typically tied to older, hardware-based networking architectures, are weighed down by vendor lock-ins, computing silos, and exorbitant operational costs. The mix of cloud computing into this equation has raised serious security, scaling and monumental network management issues. This climate has made for a great opening for the start-ups rolling out comprehensive, secure, scalable, yet simple software defined networking solutions that work with hybrid cloud computing environments.

These companies, along with leading, established providers, are crucial to ONUG’s goal to bring SDN open solutions to the enterprise. In an effort to get a better understanding of the on-going vision of these start-up and incumbent providers, ONUG brings you the CEO Corner Series.


Doug Murray

 CEO, Big Switch Networks 


ONUG: Hyperscale networking is the underlying premise for your product portfolio. Can you elaborate on it?

Murray: There has been a lot of excitement and innovation in the networking space in the last three to five years, primarily generated by companies like Google and Facebook. Their design principles focus on building incredibly large data centers capable of heavy workloads supported by server storage and networking. This is evident in Google’s Andromeda Project and Facebook’s involvement with the Open Compute Project, specifically with Wedge and the new Facebook Open Switching System.

At the same time, many Forbes Global 2000 players – financial companies, universities, and federal agencies – want the same data center and networking benefits that these mega companies enjoy. At Big Switch, we saw the opportunity to create products based on the networking and datacenter design principles of Google and Facebook that are viable for mainstream enterprise.

ONUG: So, is your founding principle based on building hyperscale solutions, or creating complex portfolios that these big companies enjoy?

Murray: It is about the complexity because many enterprises do not need the massive scale Google has, but want the CapEx and OpEx benefits. The challenge with that is Google has a networking IT team as large as Big Switch. It is hard for many enterprises to invest this heavily to create their own SDN orchestration layer or build their own operating systems.

Enterprises are really looking for comprehensive solutions, but don’t want to have to hire a hundred people to make it happen. This is where Big Switch comes in.

ONUG: Big Switch’s focus on SDN and bare metal seems to have gathered steam. Can you shed light on how the new trajectory is impacting the industry?

Murray: Across the industry, many of the branded vendors are now moving to ‘britebox’ (branded white-box switching), fuelling dynamic changes in the market.

There are three elements that are fundamental to our products: bare metal or open network switches, a centralized SDN controller, and our purpose-build operating system called Switchlight that resides on the bare metal switches. The solutions are available on the whitebox via companies such as Accton and Quanta, or as branded solutions through our strategic partner Dell.

Our first product, Big Tap, shipped in the second half of 2013.  Since then, we have picked up a solid customer base in the monitoring market. Our largest Big Tap customer is now in production in 18 data centers globally. In 2014, we introduced our second product, Big Cloud Fabric. To this day, Big Cloud Fabric remains the only bare metal SDN fabric in the market. We see both products leveraged across various verticals including technology, education, financial, and government.

There is also a market for stand-alone switching, which many players provide. Additionally, an emerging market is developing for a centralized controller (server) and an operating system that sits on the P or V switch, similar to offerings from Big Switch and Cisco.

ONUG: Is your operating system a proprietary version, and do you support open source-based system?

Murray: That is a great question; we have both open source and commercial versions. Switchlight is our OS that resides on the bare metal switch, and is used in Big Tap and Big Cloud Fabric. You can look at Switchlight as the commercial version of our Switch OS. We also submitted Open Network Linux (ONL) to the Open Compute Project, and this is the open source version. While this is not as feature-reach as Switchlight, it creates a foundation layer to build an operating system for switching and makes it a standard. More importantly, ONL has resulted in an ecosystem that companies such as Facebook, Accton, Broadcom, Dell, and others can leverage.

ONUG: What is Big Switch’s appeal on the cost and feature fronts?

Murray: Most people associate what we do with CapEx savings as they typically see our solutions being 50+ percent less than incumbent vendors’ pricing. In reality, there are many more benefits on the OpEx side in the way you operate the network. This is a tremendous shift in the way people view networking.

Basically, our products simplify management and troubleshooting through three key aspects: simplicity and resiliency via our SDN controller and OS on the switches themselves; easy and fast upgrades of the entire fabric in minutes in a hitless manner; and, visibility with our Big Switch Fabric Analytics (engine).

ONUG: That leads us to the question about orchestration, and how your product line supports it?

Murray: Orchestration is critical. We offer it through partnerships with VMware via VSphere, or through OpenStack.

ONUG: Your architectural model touches upon scale, multi-tenancy, white-box switching, and open source cloud orchestration. How do you keep it simple and nimble?

Murray: We are a small company. Our products are mature, simple to use, and immediately consumable. Our operating system and all the above-said features are well tested and ready to go.

ONUG: As you know, ONUG is an organization made up of top IT business executives from a broad spectrum of verticals. Their concern is about open networking and how to galvanize the industry to put forth interoperable solutions. What is your view on that, and how can Big Switch make that vision a reality?

Murray: We are incredible proponents of ONUG. ONUG is basically the home base for Big Switch, and as we are very customer oriented, [ONUG’s] constituency basically dictates which products and features we build. Truly, ONUG members are our audience, and our vision is to take the feedback from ONUG and leverage it to advance our products. A lot of what we are doing now is what we learned from the ONUG community in the last 18 months.

ONUG: When does true interoperability occur?

Murray: It is already happening in open hardware. Just as the server world moved away from custom silicon fifteen years back, a shift is happening in the data center switching now, with the separation of hardware and software, and an operating system over the switch. This is an important step in driving long-term interoperability.

ONUG: What’s the biggest challenge for Big Switch and the industry?

Murray:  There is some confusion in the market today with classic proprietary closed systems, bare metal switches, SDN, stand-alone switches, overlays, NFV, etc. However, there is also great promise here, and we believe that the market will evolve dramatically in the coming two or three years.

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