As SDN providers jockey for position, PLUMgrid hopes partnerships will make it stand apart

While many network vendors are busy standardizing code to implement software-defined networking (SDN), PLUMgrid, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., launched itself on to the scene Tuesday, with customers and use cases in tow. The timing could work to the startup’s advantage, and so could its alliances with other network vendors.
PLUMgrid comes to the market with a bunch of partners that can offer virtualized network applications outside of PLUMgrid’s own capabilities. Rather than try to look like the top SDN provider, PLUMgrid is pushing more of an App Store model. The approach is a clear acknowledgment that one company isn’t necessarily the answer to all SDN problems. And the humility could pay off. With a wider feature set, the company could find success.
Along with some other network vendors, including Juniper, PLUMgrid prefers not to support OpenFlow, at least for the time being. One advantage of that stance is customers won’t have to rip out old switches replace them with those with support for the protocol. Instead, PLUMgrid runs everything based on custom technology called IO Visor overlaid on physical infrastructure.
From there, customers can fire up domains through which a bunch of network functions can be implemented. Some features, such as load balancing and routing, are from PLUMgrid itself, while others can be implemented through services other companies can provide. Outside applications come from such partners as Check Point, (s chkp) Citrix, (s ctxs) F5 (s ffiv) and Palo Alto Networks. (s panw)
PLUMgrid diagram 2
And while the company has built a clean graphical user interface to manage networks, it doesn’t want the software to just sit unused as yet another interface. So it comes with a plug-in for OpenStack’s widely used Quantum networking project.
The software has been deployed at Cavium, (s cavm) Oppenheimer & Co., Richard Fleischman and Associates and the AT&T (s t) Foundry in Palo Alto, Calif. A key benefit for companies deploying PLUMgrid inside data centers so far is the ability to spin up a slew of network functions immediately as they stand up Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offerings, said co-founder and CEO Awais Nemat, one of a few executives with Cisco (s csco) ties. What’s more, applications can be rolled out as much as 20 times faster, and engineers can get much quicker access to development and test environments, without having to wait for system administrators to spin up resources, Nemat said.
To be sure, PLUMgrid isn’t the only vendor thinking outside its silo. Cyan has been thinking about how software and hardware from multiple companies can give customers a larger set of SDN capabilities. But it looks as if PLUMgrid is a bit more prepared to offer an ecosystem models to customers now.
After all that, the launch comes at a good time. The SDN market has been like a game of freeze tag as of late. Last year there was lots of excitement about programmability, centralized configuration and new revenue streams, as vendors drew up roadmaps, made acquisitions or did SDN-washing. But since the beginning of the OpenDaylight Project consortium for standardizing SDN, it’s been quieter, as if everyone is freezing in place and waiting to see if official OpenDaylight code should be worked in to networks, or if existing software would suffice. That’s why it’s as good a time as ever for PLUMgrid to come out of stealth and rack up a bunch more customers and use cases.