On January 22nd NEC launched another component of their ProgrammableFlow architecture: a virtual switch for Hyper-V 3.0 environment. The obvious questions to ask would be: (a) why do we care and (b) how’s that different from Nicira or BigSwitch.
TL&DR summary: It depends.
What is it?
The ProgrammableFlow 1000 is a virtual switch for the Hyper-V 3.0 environment tightly integrated with the existing ProgrammableFlow physical data center fabric.
It’s also the first OpenFlow virtual switch that works on a non-Linux virtualization platform – Nicira (Open vSwitch), Contrail/Juniper and Midokura have Linux-based virtual switches (Nicira’s VMware hack doesn’t count) that you can use in KVM, Xen or Linux containers-like environments, but not with more traditional enterprise hypervisors.
It’s obvious the (former) startups I just mentioned target large cloud providers (no wonder, you have to show a huge use case if you want to attract VC funding or get acquired), while NEC targets enterprises and their private clouds.
How is it different from Nicira?
Nicira’s NVP focuses on hypervisor switches and assumes the underlying physical network provides IP transport or VLANs. NVP does not touch the physical switches – a clear scalability advantage and a clear operational drawback for mid-size enterprise environments.
ProgrammableFlow has a different approach: all physical and virtual switches are controlled by a cluster of ProgrammableFlow controllers. Physical and virtual parts of the data center network are tightly integrated and appear as a single virtual device.
Nicira is ideal for large cloud environments with thousands of servers; ProgrammableFlow is ideal for mid-size enterprises with hundreds of VMs, tens of physical servers and a few switches connecting them together.
How is it different from BigSwitch?
There’s no significant difference from the high-level marketecture perspective ... but in practice there might be a huge gap between theory and practice.
ProgrammableFlow has been shipping for more than 18 months, and they probably caught numerous real-life glitches that BigSwitch hasn’t been exposed to yet. Also, NEC decided to tightly integrate their controller with their switches, while BigSwitch works with a large ecosystem of partners. Make your own conclusions.
Finally, does it matter?
However, operators of mid-sized enterprise data centers just might prefer single integrated and tested configuration/control/management entity over infinitely scalable build-it-yourself one ...and don’t forget that ProgrammableFlow with its VLAN-based encapsulation works with existing firewalls and load balancers, whereas you still need virtual appliances or brand-new hardware to connect the brave new virtual overlay world to the physical reality.