Another company for the networking startup files: Pica8

Pica8 is a startup trying to use the hype around software-defined networking to build out a business selling commodity hardware switches from several vendors with an open controller software layered on top. The company, which we profiled back in February, came out of Quanta, the Chinese Taiwanese computer equipment maker, and raised $6.6 million in venture capital from Vantage Point Capital last October.

Steve Garrison, VP of product marketing at Pica8 said that the startup already has 85 customers in the web scale and financial services markets testing its products. Several of those customers are using its gear in production, including Chinese search giant Baidu and Yahoo Japan (s yhoo). Customers can select their switching hardware from a selection of vendors that currently include Quanta and Synnex (the goal is to add more commodity switch makers over time) and then license the Pica8 PicOS software.

The Pica8 software works with Open vSwitch, but is designed to work with the specific Pica8 switches provided by this select menu of vendors. Garrison envisions a buyer being able to choose gear from a drop-down menu when ordering, and then build out a custom system that will then scale using the Pica8 software. Applications and machines that support Open vSwitch will integrate directly with Pica8 software and since the boxes will all support OpenFlow, it’s possible that the overall system will be as open as a custom-built system with those goals in mind.

Since Pica8’s founders’ background is in the commodity hardware-building business, it understands the model associated with selling programmable gear that does exactly what webscale buyers want. The caveat is that buyers must rip out their old gear and replace it with new gear to use the Pica8 software. The customer then pays for the boxes and licenses the software to run them. Basically, low-cost hardware is the carrot that gets customers to buy into the software.

Another stealth mode startup targeting this market is Cumulus Networks, which was built by ex-Cisco(s csco) executives. Garrison admits that it is early days for true software defined networks, but he expects the technology to have a big impact in the year ahead.