SDN - Networking Extreme Makeover Has Cisco and Juniper Scurrying
If you haven’t heard of it yet and you’re in computer networking, it’s likely that you will soon. Software-defined networking (SDN) is taking the industry by storm and promising to change the way computer networks are managed in the future. It’s refashioning the data center and creating an onset of start-ups that are forcing old-guard vendors like Cisco and Juniper to scurry to keep up.
SDN, which methodology is currently dominated by OpenFlow, is emerging as one of the most promising and disruptive networking technologies the industry has seen. SDN makes the control plane remotely accessible and remotely modifiable via third-party software clients, using open protocols such as OpenFlow. It allows for quick experimenting and optimization of switching/routing policies, and for external access to the innards of switches and routers that formerly were closed and proprietary.
SDN software will make networks cheaper to build, faster to configure and more efficient to operate. Historically, the software for controlling data communications in a network has been managed by proprietary software that is vendor specific to the hardware. With SDN, the data communications control functions are managed by one central program across all hardware, and can even be used with inexpensive server systems promising to reduce the overall cost of networking.
Traditionally, much of the intelligence for controlling data communications is spread around a network, managed by proprietary software that comes with each vendor's gear. With the SDN approach, those control functions are split off to be managed by one central program, which may be run on an inexpensive server system. Specialized switches and routers continue to handle other data-passing chores, but they don't need to be as sophisticated as most current hardware.
SDN will allow businesses to partition their networks permitting separation of data and control planes. Network slicing and virtualization makes it easier to experiment with new capabilities in isolated slices of the network without impacting other part of the network. Other network features like security firewalls that often require a separate piece of hardware can be added as applications software, which could make networks cheaper and easier manage.
The OpenFlow interface allows a network operator to mix and match devices from different vendors and make independent choices for the control and data plane vendors. This means third parties can develop and sell network control and management applications creating more choices for the network operators. Also, network virtualization allows a network operator to use different and customized control plane solutions for different virtual networks and thus not become dependent on a single vendor. Essentially what this means is that just as network operators are now free to use third party maintenance providers to manage all their hardware maintenance under one contract, they will now be able to us third party control plane solutions to manage their networks.
The SDN wave is catching the eye of owners of data centers, enterprises, and service provider networks who realize the promise of SDN. Some of the world’s largest networking providers have already begun to implement SDN into their networks. Google, for instance, has moved its entire internal network over to OpenFlow SDN technology and runs this network on top of low-cost Google-designed hardware. The search giant's strategy represents just the type of shift that big networking hardware companies like Cisco and Juniper are afraid of, as Google's OpenFlow adoption means it has no need of traditional networking hardware or software.
Cisco and Juniper are aware of the threat software-defined networking poses and, with the Open Network Environment move, are being forced to shift strategies. Mike Volpi, a former executive at Cisco who is now a partner at Index Ventures said, "This is one of the most significant things to come along in the last 10 years in networking.” Earlier this month, Cisco announced plans to include products that embrace OpenFlow as they have invested $100 million in a start-up with SDN technology called Insieme. Juniper, too, says it is on board, planning to roll out its first SDN products within a year. "We see SDN as a very, very strong opportunity," Pradeep Sindhu, the company's chief technology officer, said at a meeting for financial analysts this month. In fact, at Interop 2011 in Las Vegas 15 vendors demonstrated interoperable OpenFlow/SDN offerings with several other vendors expected to do so within the coming 12 months.
Just how fast the technology will spread remains unclear, but the promise of changing the networking industry is exponential. It’s ability to impact network speed and usability will touch everything from wireless connectivity, telecom, and video conferencing. The possibilities are realistically, unimaginable.
Take a look at this video from OpenFlow.org that shows how OpenFlow will impact the way we as end users will be able to benefit from the partitioning of networks as they show the potential benefit of being able to us all the wireless networks around us. Imagine FaceTime with no gliches…
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