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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.

-More information: Nutanix 

Efforts by big name vendors such as Cisco, VMware and EMC (via their VCE venture) to combine data center elements such as compute, storage and networking into one plug-and-play system have been mildly successful to date, according to industry analyst Arun Taneja. What Nutanix is doing is different though, what Taneja calls "hyper-convergence."

Nutanix sells a hardware-software combination that combines compute and storage, meant to allow for easy scalability to a massive size with simple management. In 2011 the company won a best in show at VMworld in the virtual desktop category and investors have already poured more than $70 million into the company. Nutanix says in 30 minutes its system can be installed and IT admins have a data center in a box, ready to scale just by adding more nodes.

The key, says CEO Pandey, is the notion that data stored in Nutanix is written locally and stored redundantly across however many nodes are included in the deployment. That allows for easy horizontal scaling - just add more boxes to increase capacity, while not degrading performance. Nutanix is built on Intel Sandy Bridge processors and the VMware ESX hypervisor, but its Version 3.0 software released in December expands support to Red Hat's Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM). Automatic redundancy across the system means virtual machine-level disaster recovery capabilities, while the VMware platform allows for vMotion - the transferring of virtual machine instances - across nodes within the system.

Nutanix is playing in a crowded field with some heavy hitters. Along with VCE, IBM has Pure Systems and NetApp has FlexPod. Taneja, the analyst, says those are "pseudo" convergence efforts - disparate pieces assembled together and optimized to work collectively. "Hyper-convergence can only happen if you start afresh," he says, which is exactly what Nutanix has done.

Pica8

Headquarters: Palo Alto

Founded: 2009

Focus: Hardware-independent SDN switching systems

Product availability: OpenFlow-enabled Open Switches are shipping now

Funding: $6.5M Series A from Vantage Point Capital in October 2012

Management: Co-founders James Liao (CEO) and Lin Du (vice president of engineering) were with Woven Systems; other execs from InfloBlox, Dell and Alcatel-Lucent.

More information: Pica8 

Even though the SDN market is young, there is already a confusing variety of vendors and products on the market. Where's an interested buyer supposed to start?

Pica8 executives want to simplify the process. The company, which was founded on the basis of being software-focused and hardware-independent, has released a series of reference architectures of how to get going along the SDN pathway - of course using Pica8's network operating system.

An SDN architecture has three main components, explains Pica8 marketing executive Steve Garrison: A physical switch, a controller and a virtual switch. But there are already dozens of options for customers to select from for each of those components, leading to a long onboarding process of typically between 90 to 100 days, he says. Pica8's published guides show how customers can set up and deploy these virtual networks using Pica8 components and commodity hardware supplied by Quanta Computer, ensuring that customers are not locked into buying expensive proprietary equipment.

 

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