Just as virtualization and “cloud computing” are wreaking havoc in the server industry, so too is software defined networking causing traditional network router business executives to lose sleep. Cisco’s John Chambers very well could be among those requiring assistance to get some shuteye.


On Monday, Big Switch Networks, a high-profile startup backed by Intel, Goldman Sachs and several high-profile venture capitalists, announced that it hard lured away Prashant Gandhi from Cisco. SDN is still an emerging technology with huge potential, and Gandhi is one of the acknowledged leaders in its development.

“Prashant is supremely qualified given his extensive data center experience in both physical and virtual networking, as well as a deep productization and go-to-market expertise,” said Big Switch CEO and Co-Founder Guido Appenzeller in announcing Gandhi’s hire. “We are excited to have him on board as we accelerate commercialization of Big Switch products and technologies.”

Mark Johnson, chief technology officer at MCNC, warned in a recent column for WRALTechWire, that SDN posted a major threat to traditional network infrastructure which is Cisco’s bread-and-butter. A WRALTechWire report in February warned that SDN is networking’s new “secret sauce.”

“The central concept of SDN is decoupling the moving of data from the decision about where data should move (network control),” Johnson wrote. “By separating these functions, software can be written that “virtualizes” the network, enabling centralized decisions to be made in software on the fly to move data in response to any external requirements. This enables enterprises to control movement of data within their own networks in more sophisticated ways and is likely to be a valuable innovation in data center environments.”

Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO), which employs some 5,000 people in RTP, valued Gandhi highly since he was senior director, product management and marketing, for the data center group. He had worked at Cisco since 2009 when Cisco acquired Rohati Systems where he was the CEO and co-founder. 

All Things Digital called Gandhi’s hire an “important” one.

“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,” wrote Arik Hesseldahl.

In the announcement, Gandhi said he had been “searching for a unique opportunity” in the SDN space.

Even though Cisco recently committed to support of the Open Daylight SDN initiative, Big Switch also is a member. (Other members include Red Hat, Citrix and IBM.)

“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,” Gandhi said. “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.”

Just how serious a “player” in SDN can be seen by simply looking at its list of investors, which have poured $45 million into the firm: Goldman Sachs, Intel Capital, Index Ventures, Khosla Ventures and Redpoint Ventures as well as others.

Gandhi’s big switch to a much smaller startup could mean more trouble for Cisco in coming years, if not months, if the SDN wave grows into a tsunami as many industry experts are expecting.