Software-defined networking is hot and Big Switch has data to prove it

Updated: Big Switch, which many in the networking sector have enshrined as Nicira’s rival in software defined networking, said Monday that its Floodlight open-source, SDN controller software has surpassed 6,000 downloads and supports an ecosystem worth $3 billion. This type of momentum release is generally a company’s way of saying, “Hey, look at me,” and isn’t a huge surprise given the slow pace of summer and the fact that Nicira is in the process of selling itself to VMware (s vmw) for $1.26 billion.

Big Switch wants developers, startups and most importantly — potential acquirers — to know that it is not only still relevant, but that it might be the sole “open” choice left for those looking at software defined networking and pondering how to implement the underlying virtualization of the network. Check out the quote form the release from Guido Appenzeller, CEO and co-founder of Big Switch Networks.

“This further solidifies Floodlight’s API interface as the standard for programming SDN networks, and will make it easier for customers to avoid vendor lock-in as OpenFlow applications developed by Big Switch, third parties or their own in-house developers become available.”

In other words, Big Switch is not only still relevant, but it’s also the platform play for software defined networks as opposed to an element of VMware’s future software defined data center products, which will likely require buying into VMware’s overall vision and software licenses. But, since VMware has yet to close on the Nicira acquisition or detail its plans and products for the software defined data center, the release is mostly about FUD and enticing a likely buyer.

So who might that buyer be? Likely candidates include Citrix (s ctrx) (hey it bought XenSource, the maker of an open source hypervisor); IBM, (s ibm) which has a partnership with Big Switch and has its own controller software and evolving strategy around SDN; and Intel,(s intc) which is a chipmaker but invests more than many realize in software and has a big stake in getting deeper into the networking chip market as computing and networking converge. Update: I was called out on Twitter for not including the big networking companies in this list, but was trying to go beyond the obvious of Cisco, Juniper, HP and Arista. Still, those companies too are potential buyers of Big Switch, although of those I think Juniper and HP would be the more likely acquirers.

Regardless, the Big Switch guys are right when they put the focus of software defined networks on applications, as opposed to the mechanism for virtualizing the hardware. While the controller and virtualization layers will likely dictate who gets revenue today in the SDN market, it’s the potential that the applications will unleash that will provide the most value. Much as virtualization of the server helped pave the way for cloud computing, virtualization of the network will allow for new ways of thinking about connectivity — in the data center, carrier networks and even in the home.