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Early SDN Customers Urged to Seize the Day

Craig Matsumoto
2/15/2013
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There have been no major shifts in networking for 25 years, so as software-defined networking (SDN) unfolds, users can't afford to blow this chance, consultant Nick Lippis says. Specifically, he's talking about how open (or not) SDN becomes. "We're rapidly seeing company-specific stacks being built," says the head of Lippis Enterprises. "If the user community doesn't start to do more pilots with more open [architectures], then all the startups and all the innovative thinking that's in networking now will dry up. That window will close." That was one of his main conclusions from the Open Networking User Group (ONUG), a one-day conference held Wednesday hosted by Fidelity Investments in Boston with about 200 attendees, many of them IT personnel from the financial services sector. (See Users Want 'Open' SDN Done Right.) The invitation-only event, which had no media and limited vendor presence, was a chance for the technology's early adopters (and wannabe adopters) to air their concerns and experiences. It was exhilarating, says Lippis, who organized ONUG, ran Wednesday's conference and took a moment to talk to Light Reading before taking some down time in the Caribbean. Few question that SDN, or something like it, is provoking changes in thinking that could change the way networks are designed, possibly radically. Those changes are sometimes described as being far off. But Lippis thinks users are in a race against time. All the major networking vendors are busy defining their idea of SDN. If users have a different idea, they'd better assert it before the industry norm for whatever "SDN" becomes cements into place. He figures they've got 18 to 24 months. Stuck in 1994
It's from that urgency that ONUG was formed. Last spring, Lippis realized he'd been talking to a lot of customers looking for a way to gain control over their networking infrastructure. The focus wasn't necessarily SDN, but a general frustration around the lack of automation in networking. "Network management has been stuck in 1994, and the result has been bigger staff required to manage the network. Eighty percent of their time is just tweaking the network, port by port," Lippis says. A typical IT organization has one engineer for every 90 switches or routers, Lippis says. For mobile networks, the ratio is closer to one to 8,000 -- the difference being that mobile operators, faced with traffic patterns that involved lots of little connections turning on and off rapidly, invested in automation. ONUG was not created as an exercise to bash Cisco Systems Inc., nor is it meant to be "incumbent-destroyer" cheerleading, Lippis stresses. "They just want this fixed." One major theme is that networking engineers need "permission to think differently," he says. "We've been living two and a half decades, 25 years, thinking about networks in one way, and that's all people know. When they hire people, they need Cisco CCIE certification. It's basically implying to people that if you don't think that way, we don't want to talk to you." What ONUG's members have going for them is money. It sounds like the group largely consists of financial organizations and large enterprises (a full list hasn't been made available yet), so they've got the money to make vendors listen. What they don't have going for them is time. If early adopters don't press vendors to stick to, say, the principles of openness that ONUG asserted Thursday, then those ideas could get left out. That's why ONUG won't wait a full year for its next meeting, Lippis says. — Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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mark-r
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mark-r,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/16/2013 | 1:24:12 AM
re: Early SDN Customers Urged to Seize the Day
Most of network functionality is defined by its hardware as vast majority of functional decisions is done (or at least should be done for optimal performance incl. minimized latency) in the microchips used for the switches and routers. Software has not been able to keep the pace with ever increasing data rates for well over a decade now. Yes, the management software and standards can be open, but the differentiation in terms of capabilities, features, performance, cost-efficiency is defined by the hardware design. Many financial services firms eg high frequency traders have had to design their own networking (and computing) hardware for competitive advantage. Managing custom hardware is not that difficult; just configure the parameters via web based GUI and use a network file system to link the management server and custom boxes register files. And custom hardware functionality (via FPGAs) is also remotely programmable.
dig_deeper
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dig_deeper,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/16/2013 | 1:22:12 AM
re: Early SDN Customers Urged to Seize the Day
onug wants openness and they would love if ibm and cisco open source their sdn stack and provide open northbound apis for agile and dynamic configuration of the network. -Daylight from ibm and cisco could address this. -sdn is all about agile configuration of the network and an opensourced sdn stack with open northbound apis can make onug users happy.
Craig Matsumoto
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Craig Matsumoto,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/15/2013 | 7:03:21 PM
re: Early SDN Customers Urged to Seize the Day
-Good points. I do think some customers will take the "gimme what works" approach, which might lend itself to monolithic, all-in-one networks that aren't open.-

I think part of what Nick Lippis is doing (and this is my wording, not his) is to make sure that that approach doesn't end up being the only one available, after all the SDN dust settles.

As is apparent with ONUG, a lot of customers want to ensure that deployment freedom and flexibility.

Thanks, Chris.
cjanz
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cjanz,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/15/2013 | 6:25:24 PM
re: Early SDN Customers Urged to Seize the Day
SDN without
true openness is missing much of the point, even though automation can be
improved without it.- This will prove most apparent to carriers, who
compete for revenue and on profitability directly tied to network-based
services.- It is more difficult to compete when one is constrained to use
the same tools as oneGs competitors.- SDN offers carriers the prospect of
increased differentiation and innovation that G this is key - lies much more under
their own control, as it is much more significantly based in software.-
But to obtain the benefit requires the preservation of development, assembly
and deployment freedom and flexibility throughout the SDN software architecture,
including in the control layer.- Monolithic S/W-plus-network solutions G
however programmable on top G significantly restrict that freedom and
flexibility. - Chris Janz, VP Market Development - Ciena-
Craig Matsumoto
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Craig Matsumoto,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/15/2013 | 5:39:15 PM
re: Early SDN Customers Urged to Seize the Day
-I know ONUG is just one set of users among (potentially) many.- They're pretty high-powered (and high-monied) though, and by definition concerned with SDN. What are their chances of influencing the way the SDN cards fall?
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