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10 network virtualization, SDN and data center companies to watch

Brandon Butler | Feb. 28, 2013
After years of venture capital and start-up focus on consumer-focused tech companies, enterprise networks and the data center are back in vogue.

After years of venture capital and start-up focus on consumer-focused tech companies, enterprise networks and the data center are back in vogue.

But we're not talking sexy Vogue. We're talking virtualization, cloud computing and software-defined networking (SDN) - the sorts of technologies IT managers need to run more efficient data centers and better support increasingly mobile workforces and customers.

"It's an area that hasn't had any innovation in decades," says Jamie Goldstein of North Bridge Venture Partners about the networking industry. "Vendors are still selling the same Ethernet switches they were in the 1990s. Maybe the interfaces are faster, but it's all basically the same technology. Until recently." SDN is a fundamental change in networking, he says, which is causing excitement in the venture capital community.

Established vendors such as Cisco, Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent have all aired their SDN plans of late, but it's venture-backed companies such as VMware's $1.2 billion baby Nicira and Stanford University-borne Big Switch Networks that have grabbed more of the attention in this emerging field. And scads of newcomers are right behind them.

In our latest package on companies to watch - vendors that collectively have raised some $250 million in funding - we profile SDN upstarts as well as those in related markets such as virtualization and converged infrastructure.


-Headquarters: Santa Clara

-Founded: 2010

-Focus: Virtualization management

-Product availability: HotLink SuperVISOR for VMware vCenter and HotLink Hybrid Express for VMware vCenter are both generally available.

-Funding: $10M from Foundation Capital and Leapfrog Ventures

-Management: HotLink CEO Lynn LeBlanc and Chief Science Officer Richard Offer co-founded FastScale Technology, a software provisioning platform that VMware acquired. LeBlanc has worked at a variety of eventually-acquired startups, including iReady, ILEX Systems and Atherton Technology

-More information: HotLink 

An emerging truth about modern data centers is that they are heterogeneous. They run multiple operating systems, applications and, increasingly, hypervisors. (One survey found that up to 20% of VMware users have deployed the Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor in their data centers, with Red Hat's KVM and Citrix's Xen Server each gaining market share against VMware's dominate hypervisor market position.)

But the downside to all this: "Heterogeneity is typically synonymous with complexity," says HotLink CEO LeBlanc.

The vendor's SuperVISOR product is designed to simplify management of heterogeneous hypervisors via a software plugin to VMware vCenter. HotLink's recently launched Hybrid Express platform allows vCenter users to control Amazon Web Service's public cloud resources.

In effect, Hotlink's software tricks VMware vCenter into thinking that Hyper-V, KVM or Xen-virtualized machines are running on VMware hypervisors. A variety of management platforms allow users to deploy virtual machines across hypervisors, but HotLink goes beyond just that and allows users to migrate workloads across them, too. "No one else is really doing integration to this degree," says Bernd Harzog, an analyst at The Virtualization Practice.


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