Flush with Cash, Pica8 Makes Move into Cloud Environments

Pica8 Announces Cloud Reference Architecture

Pica8, also previously known as Pronto Networks, revealed on Monday an SDN architectural framework focused around a physical switch, a hypervisor virtual switch and an SDN controller leveraging OpenFlow as the communications protocol. This was the most recent in a series of announcements over the last 2 months from them.

Pica8, which raised $6.6M a few months ago from Vantage Point (a VC with strong ties to Asia), showed off a framework with Open vSwitch providing the OpenFlow stack within their datacenter TOR (top-of-rack) switches and interoperability with the NTT-developed Ryu controller.

Here at SDNCentral, we have some familiarity with Pica8′s products and have one of their Pronto switches in our SDN labs for testing for almost a year now. As part of our SDN service offerings, we try to keep ourselves updated with the different switches and controllers in the marketplace–after all, we wouldn’t be very credible in providing advisory or POC (proof-of-concept) consultations if we didn’t know the capabilities of the different switches and controllers. In addition, Pica8 was provided with the XORP codebase by Quanta which spun them out and I used to be the consulting VP of Marketing at XORP some years back.

What’s News

  • Pica8 has raised a decent first round of financing and James Liao, their founder and CEO, has recruited an experienced management team
  • They are experiencing rapid growth and have 85 customers worldwide. While we know that many of those are probably research institutions or tire-kickers who were attracted to their low prices, that list includes eminent names like Baidu and Yahoo! Japan
  • Pica8 has decided to use Open vSwitch as their primary OpenFlow implementation instead of enhancing their own
  • Their L2/L3 stack (renamed from XorPlus to PicOS) is still an integral part of their offering though it’s unclear whether their customers are relying heavily on that stack versus just using the OpenFlow element of their switches

What’s Not

  • In terms of reference architectures, this isn’t unique. We’ve seen others from the ecosystem, including Big Switch and their partners, like Arista, with a controller and a switching element. Perhaps there’s an argument that Pica8 has an open-source OS running on their switch and open APIs, but given that the core components of the OS are still proprietary, it’s not that different from Arista’s EOS.
  • There is no new cloud functionality aside from what Ryu already offers, which is primarily OpenStack integration with multi-tenant networks
  • Pica8 has already had Open vSwitch running on their switches for some time. And the OpenFlow 1.2 mention is slightly confusing given that Open vSwitch to-date doesn’t fully support anything more than 1.0 based on our understanding.
  • That Pica8 has decided to focus on cloud datacenters and aligned themselves with a cloud-platform controller. That’s been their major target market for some time, though we see some campus deployments using Pica8 switches at research institutions.
Bottom Line
  • Pica8 remains worth watching–they were and still are the lowest cost OpenFlow-enabled switch on the marketplace and are built by well-known Taiwanese ODMs using merchant silicon from Broadcom (like the Trident and Trident+ chipsets). They, along with Cumulus Networks, are probably as pure a play as you’ll get in the low-cost whitebox datacenter TOR switch replacement game, which SDN and OpenFlow is supposed to help drive. It still remains to be seen if that can be a winning strategy in the longer term.
  • The evolution of OVS on Pica8, plus their own OS, will be interesting to watch since we’re still waiting for a release of OVS that will support the 1.3 OpenFlow standard. Will Pica8 contribute to OVS and help drive development? Will Pica8 eventually open-source their entire OS stack (minus the proprietary Broadcom drivers)?
In any case, we salute their vision to drive the commoditization of datacenter switches and to attempt to make a dent in datacenter switching against the incumbents. If the succeed, it will prove that OpenFlow and SDN did change the rules of the game.

Check out more about Pica8 on SDNCentral:

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