Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Cisco’s Prashant Gandhi Bolts to Upstart Big Switch Networks

prashant_gandhi-featureBig Switch Networks, the startup focused on software-defined networking, has just scored a significant executive hire away from the company whose business it wants to disrupt the most: Cisco Systems.

The company announced today that Prashant Gandhi, a senior director at Cisco who led development of its own SDN efforts, will join Big Switch as vice president of product management, starting today.

It’s an important hire for Big Switch because there are few people who have as much history in the world of traditional enterprise networking who also have as much history working on efforts to remake it with software. Gandhi worked on some of Cisco’s most important mainstream switching products, like the Cisco Nexus 7000. But he also worked on Cisco’s Nexus 1000v virtual switch and its Cisco One software controller.

His move is occurring at a crucial moment. In recent weeks Cisco has been talking a lot about its interest in contributing to the OpenDaylight project, an open-source SDN consortium. Cisco has contributed code from the CiscoOne product to the project, and Gandhi would have been intimately familiar with the substance of its effort. BigSwitch is a member of OpenDaylight, too.

Big Switch, on the other hand, hails directly out of OpenFlow, another open-source networking project that was born at Stanford University.

I talked with Jason Matlof, Big Switch’s marketing VP, who described Gandhi’s move as a big vote in favor of Big Switch’s approach over Cisco’s. “No one is better qualified to make a judgement on Cisco’s contribution to OpenDaylight versus ours. He has worked on Cisco’s contribution and he is voting with his feet to come to Big Switch.”

Big Switch, you’ll recall, came out of stealth mode last year, backed by $37 million in combined funding from investors including Redpoint Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Index Ventures and Goldman Sachs. Its plan is basically to turn networks into a software platform around which companies can build their own applications.

And yes, SDN technology is still new, and most of the battles now are about building foundations for future business that lie years down the road. Indeed, companies like Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Juniper still sell a great deal of old-school non-SDN networking gear, though HP in particular has been going to a lot of trouble to call attention to its shift in favor of SDN-ready gear.

Gandhi is a Cisco veteran, having joined that company first in 1999 in a technical marketing role that lasted six years. He then went on to start Rohati Networks, which Cisco snapped up during an acquisition spurt in 2009.

Big Switch didn’t make Gandhi available for an interview, but in a statement announcing his hiring, he alluded to Rohati and called Big Switch a “unique opportunity:”

“Since the successful completion of the integration of Rohati technologies within Cisco’s Data Center Group, I have been searching for a unique opportunity in the rapidly forming software-defined networking market. … Big Switch Networks is the leader in SDN with the best team, the best technology and the best customer traction, so the choice was clear. Customers are very eager to bring commercial-grade SDN solutions into their networks, and I look forward to helping this market move quickly to maturity.”

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