Blessed Are the SDN Switchmakers
Pope Francis is an unlikely teacher about the importance of software-defined networking (SDN).
And yet, Andrew Feldman, corporate vice president and general manager, Server Business Unit, for Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (NYSE: AMD), uses the following slide to illustrate the transition to SDN.
On the left is the inauguration of Pope Benedict in 2005. On the right, the inauguration of Pope Francis in 2013.
"What you see in the photo in 2005 is everybody's watching," Feldman said in a phone conversation. "In 2013, everyone is holding up an iPad and iPhone recording the event. The way we experience the world has changed, and unbeknownst to us it is inserted in the datacenter in our daily lives." Every video and photo will be uploaded to the cloud, tweeted, posted to Facebook, and emailed to family. All that requires datacenters, Feldman said.
"We are using the datacenter constantly. You go to Google Maps, you go to the datacenter. You use Twitter, you use the datacenter. If I take your datacenter away from you by taking away your radio, you have nothing. You have a device that isn't good for anything but playing Angry Birds.
"So large is this transformation in the datacenter, so all-encompassing, there is nothing similar about datacenters between today and 2005."
Datacenters, he notes, are now located in different places where energy costs are lower than average, such as Prineville, Ore., site of a major Facebook datacenter. Previously, datacenters were located in cities such as San Jose, Calif. And the architecture changed -- they are no longer boxy, generic buildings.
"They are finely tooled systems seeking to cool servers and infrastructure with ambient air," Feldman told us. "They are architected and engineered in a way that's different."
The servers are different: Dell or HP in 2005, Quanta or Foxconn today. Switches, software controllers, and storage are all different as well. Likewise, software such as Hadoop and Cassandra was unavailable in 2005.
And SDN is part of that fundamental transformation. "It's a response that says we used to link together PCs, printers, and a few servers with Ethernet. We now control thousands of servers. We can add some intelligence, some control and manageability to the network that we previously couldn't do and didn't need."
SDN adds centralization to previously decentralized systems. SDN enables decisions based on traffic patterns in the network, rather than pre-set rules. "Some modest amount of centralization and control benefits the system, particularly because we can learn and have software that modifies the rules in the network based on what's actually happening there," says Feldman. "That software can communicate and work across many switches, whereas in the past each switch had its own software and would learn independently."
It's a heck of a leap: from Papal inaugurations to SDN.
What networking metaphors are available for other grand public events, such as the Olympics, Super Bowl, and periodic availability of the McDonald's McRib sandwich? Feel free to make outrageous suggestions on the message board below.
— Mitch Wagner, , West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading.
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