Ranking the Top 10 Software Defined Networking Startups

CIO.com readers rank the Top 10 Software Defined Networking (SDN) startups. As the software-defined data center evolves from dream to reality, all nine of these SDN startups (and an important new standards body) intend to push SDN into the mainstream.

By Jeff Vance
Wed, September 25, 2013


UPDATE: PLUMgrid won the SDN hot startup competition by a fairly wide margin, garnering almost 30 percent of the vote. Jeda Networks finished a strong second, with 20 percent. The surprise is how well the OpenDaylight Project did, since, technically, it's not really a startup, but a standards body whose goal is to create open-source SDN standards.

We included OpenDaylight because it could play a leading role in how SDN matures, but grabbing 11 percent of the vote total to finish third is impressive. Embrane and Metacloud round out the top five.

Final Votes (by Percentage)

Top SDN Startup Results

Software Defined Networking (SDN) startups are being snatched up, one by one, by incumbent networking vendors who fear turning into dinosaurs as the software-defined data center evolves from Utopian fever dream to reality. Nicira, Vyatta, Cariden and Contrail have already been acquired by VMware, Brocade, Cisco and Juniper, respectively.

Meanwhile, mainstream vendors such as IBM and HP have rolled out their own SDN products.

According to IDC, the SDN market will reach $3.7 billion by 2016. SDN products may still be immature, but there is a ton of forward momentum. Here are nine startups (and an important new standards body) that intend to push SDN into the mainstream.

[ 9 Hot Network Virtualization, SDN and Data Center Startups ]

[ Software-Defined Networking Explained ]

1. Affirmed Networks

Affirmed Networks

What they do: Provide virtualized subscriber and content management tools for mobile operators.

Headquarters: Acton, Mass.

CEO: Hassan Ahmed, who was previously the CEO of Sonus.

Founded: 2010

Funding: $103 million in total funding, including a $51 million Series C that closed in June. Investors include Bessemer Venture Partners, KCK Group, Matrix Partners, Charles River Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, T-Venture, and Vodafone Ventures.

Why they're on this list: Affirmed Networks brings the SDN concept, which is typically confined to enterprise or cloud data centers, to mobile networks. Mobile users expect a lot from the mobile Internet these days. They want to stream video content, conduct mobile commerce, and engage with each other through social media. In other words, pretty much anything you can do on a PC over a broadband connection you also want to be able to do from a mobile device. The trouble is that even 4G networks aren't entirely up to the task.

Affirmed Networks' software-based virtualization solution transforms mobile networks from legacy access architectures to intelligent, virtualized networks, which dramatically shifts the operators' economics and enables them to deliver the services their customers demand at broadband-like speeds.

The Affirmed solution is designed to overcome major challenges operators face in economically scaling their networks to meet subscriber usage and quality of experience demands, as well as to intelligently treat multiple traffic streams -- sometimes from the same subscriber -- to appropriately ensure the best "Quality of Experience." This means that operators may tailor services individually and create adaptable charging profiles for each user.

Competitive Landscape: I haven't found any head-to-head competitors (chime in below in the comments field if you know of any), but Affirmed hopes to displace such incumbents as Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia, Ericsson, Cisco, and Huawei.

2. Big Switch Networks

Big Switch Networks

What they do: Develop OpenFlow-based SDN switches, controllers and monitoring tools.

Headquarters: Palo Alto, Calif.

CEO: Guido Appenzeller, who was previously a Consulting Assistant Professor at Stanford University and head of the Clean Slate Lab, where he led the research team that developed the OpenFlow v1.0 standard and the reference switch and controller implementations. Before that, he was CTO of Voltage Security.

Founded: 2010

Funding: More than $45 million. The most recent investment was a $6.5 million Series-B follow-on from Intel capital, an investment that closed in February. Previous backers include Goldman Sachs, Redpoint Ventures and Khosla Ventures.

Why they're on this list: According to Big Switch, the networking industry has been stuck in the mainframe era, wedded to vertically integrated hardware and software systems that are built upon proprietary architectures and are substantially the same as they were decades ago. These legacy network architectures create operational fragility, drive excessively long provisioning times and result in unnecessarily high operational costs.

Big Switch argues that the best replacement for all of this is OpenFlow-based software abstraction layer between the network control plane and underlying data forwarding plane, including both physical and virtual devices. An open platform with centralized software provisioning delivers improvements in network agility through programmability and automation, while substantially reducing the costs of network operations. By using an industry standard data plane abstraction protocol like OpenFlow, data center operators are now free to use any type and brand of data plane device, since all the underlying network hardware is addressable through a common abstraction protocol.

OpenFlow facilitates the use of bare-metal switches and eliminates traditional vendor lock-in, giving end users freedom of choice in networking similar to what they've recently gained in other areas of IT infrastructure, such as servers.

In November 2012, Big Switch's started shipping its first products: an OpenFlow-based controller, a unified network-monitoring application, and an SDN network-virtualization switch.

Competitive Landscape: They will compete against VMware (Nicira acquisition), Brocade (Vyatta acquisition), Midokura, Embrane and PLUMgrid.

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