Big Switch Networks lures away VMware virtual networking veteran

R&D expert Howie Xu brings nine years of VMware expertise around Distributed Virtual Switches and Cisco Nexus 1000V appliance

Back in April, Big Switch Networks dropped out of stealth mode to announce a $13.75 million round of financing, led by Index Ventures and Khosla Ventures. At the time, the company said it was building a new platform that would bring the benefits of virtualization and cloud architecture to enterprise networks by leveraging the OpenFlow standard for its own networking virtualization. In order to make enterprise networking exciting again and become the VMware of networking, the company said it would unite world experts from both the virtualization and networking industry.

Last week Big Switch Networks may have added a key component to see its vision through to fruition, announcing it had lured away VMware R&D expert Howie Xu to head up the company's own engineering and R&D program.

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Xu brings with him nine years of experience working for VMware, the last five of which he led VMware's networking R&D team. Xu is credited with co-inventing VMware's Virtual Switch and holds multiple patents in this area. He was also one of the driving forces behind developing the industry's first Distributed Virtual Switch for VMware. Under his leadership at the virtualization giant, the team innovated and collaborated with Cisco to create the widely popular Nexus 1000V appliance.

Xu said his decision to join Big Switch Networks was a no-brainer, and that the networking industry is experiencing tremendous change right now. On his company blog, he wrote:

Just a couple of years ago, I could hardly run into any networking admins dying for a disruptive technology in their backyard, but things are the opposite right now. They may not have fully grasped the implications of the private cloud just yet but network admins across the board are basically asking two questions these days:

1) Who can give me a solution so that I'm no longer constantly on the hot seat with ever increasing network add/change/remove requirements without a budget increase?

2) Who can give me a product to make me look like a champion just like VMware did to server admins 6-7 years ago?

To assist Xu in shaking things up and fostering new ideas outside of the existing network paradigm, Big Switch Networks has doubled its technical staff this year. More than 70 percent of the team have at least one graduate degree in computer science, and 50 percent of the team are former distinguished engineers, principal engineers, senior staff engineers, or faculty from leading universities. The company also recently moved its new corporate headquarters into VMware's own backyard in Palo Alto, where they plan to continue trying to hire top talent.

Big Switch Networks isn't alone on this networking virtualization journey. In the last month, VMware and Microsoft have submitted competing standards to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) aimed at improving the scalability of virtual LANs in very large virtual environments. Neither company has shown any interest in leaving this market up to its partner ecosystem alone. And let's not forget about former VMware CEO and co-founder Diane Greene, who invested her own money into another stealth company called Nicira, which is ready to decouple network services from the underlying physical hardware and virtualize the network.

These are only a few of the companies ready to boldly go into the next frontier of network virtualization. Now let's see just how interesting they can really make networking for the rest of us.

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