Remember Plexxi? The company was founded in 2010, during the early, heady days of SDN when the industry was all aquiver with new concepts and architectures for building and operating networks.
Plexxi came to market with three ideas:
- Ethernet switches using an optical WDM interconnect
- Affinity networking
- A data center fabric that could be carved to support a variety of workload types
If people recall Plexxi, it tends to be for its debut switch, which combined traditional Ethernet front panel ports with optics and WDM.
The Plexxi switch promised high performance (400Gbps total throughput per switch) and optical ports that enabled you to interconnect up to 250 switches in a fabric. The optical WDM ports allows for the splitting of lightwaves, creating an “any to any” mesh fabric of switches, even though the physical topology was a ring.
Plexxi also developed a software controller. This controller maintained a full picture of the fabric to prevent loops, identify the best path for traffic based on “affinities”, and instruct the software resident on each switch to program the data plane.
The upshot is that the central controller was essentially out of band; once the controller sent instructions to individual switches, it could step out of the picture.
The controller model was essential to Plexxi’s notion of Affinity Networking, which the company positions as an early version of Intent-based networking. In this model, high-level workload requirements are communicated to the controller by an operator or via APIs, and the controller then handles the low-level network programming and device configuration to meet those requirements.
From the beginning, Plexxi’s value proposition was built around providing a pool of network capacity based on an Ethernet fabric that could be carved up any way you liked to support both compute and storage workloads.
One problem Plexxi ran into was the optical and WDM components of their switches, which bloggers, analysts, and tech journalists (myself included) really latched on to. Because the boxes weren’t being produced at a large enough scale, they were somewhat expensive.
The benefits of an Ethernet fabric and an intent-based model took a back seat to that switch. And in fairness, it’s a big reach to ask customers to build their data center network around pricey and proprietary hardware coming from a startup.
Over the years, Plexxi downplayed the optical interconnect ports and refocused the company around its software, where the real value resides, and a whitebox strategy. The company also positioned itself a contender to be the networking component in a hyperconverged infrastructure.
Enter The Acquisition
And thus we come to HPE.
Earlier today, HPE announced it is buying Plexxi for an undisclosed amount. In a corporate blog, HPE said Plexxi will be integrated into HPE’s hyperconverged product line.
The blog notes that “Plexxi will enable us to deliver the industry’s only hyperconverged offering that incorporates compute, storage and data fabric networking into a single solution, with a single management interface and support.”
HPE also plans to bring Plexxi into Synergy, its composable infrastructure line. The company wrote that it would offer a “rack solution” that includes pools of compute and storage that can be “composed and recomposed as business needs dictate.”
I followed up via email to ask if HPE will continue to sell Plexxi as a standalone data center fabric. The company responded that it is “continually assessing other use cases.”
HPE also didn’t have much to say about whether Plexxi would operate as a standalone brand within HPE, like Aruba, or be subsumed into the larger organization, writing that it would provide more updates after the close of the acquisition at the end of July.
HPE has a partnership with Arista Networks, in which it resells Arista data center switching gear. When I asked if the Plexxi deal might hamper that relationship, the company responded “Software-defined is growing fast and we see use cases for both technologies.”
At the same time that news of the acquisition was announced, Plexxi also launched the 3.0 version of its workflow manager software, and the 4.0 version of its controller software, with improved hooks into VMware environments.
Plexxi has raised $83.4 million in venture funding since its 2010 founding.