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HP's looking to foster a SDN ecosystem and take the smartphone model into enterprise software-defined networking with a developers' kit and an app store. But is this an idea ahead of its time?

HP's Building an SDN App Store

Ray Le Maistre
9/30/2013
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HP is seeking to put itself at the front and center of the software-defined networking (SDN) revolution with the announcement at this week's Interop show in New York of a SDN software development kit (SDK), plans for an SDN app store, and new routers that support OpenFlow, a key SDN protocol.

The IT giant, which has been one of the most aggressive developers of SDN technology based around the OpenFlow protocol, is keen to "foster an ecosystem around SDN," said Mike Banic, VP of global marketing, networking, at Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) (HP) during a media briefing in London.

The availability of an SDK for SDN applications developers, plus plans to build an app store that will enable network operations teams to download apps into their SDN controllers in the same way that smartphone users download apps onto their devices, "will create an opportunity for entrepreneurs -- we believe we can create opportunities for the two-guys-in-a-garage startups to get involved without them needing VC backing," added Banic, referencing HP's founding roots.

The SDK will give developers the opportunity to "develop, simulate, certify, and collaborate," noted Banic, while the SDN app store will house apps from all manner of partners and "bring the consumer experience into the IT department. This is an open SDN ecosystem," added the HP exec.

Partners that have already registered for the SDK include F5, Intel, KT Cloud, Microsoft, NTT, Qosmos, Radware, Riverbed, ShoreTel Inc., Samsung, SAP, Tech Mahindra, and VMware, among others.

In addition, HP is unveiling 10 new router products that support OpenFlow, including a Virtual Services Router that, says HP, is being put through its paces by Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF), which is looking at how a virtual router could be deployed for its enterprise customers.

HP's news is just one of what will be a number of important SDN-related announcements that will come out of Interop and the Ethernet & SDN Expo this week. (See Top 10 Reasons to Attend Ethernet & SDN Expo, 5 ESDN Sessions You Won't Want to Miss, Vendors Prep for ESDN Showcase, A Question of Ethernet & SDN and 9 Vendors to Watch at Interop NY 2013.)

SDN vision looks very long-term
The move is the latest step in HP's SDN strategy that has seen the company develop and market commercial OpenFlow switches, develop an SDN controller and applications and demonstrate an SDN applications for the management of Lync unified communications sessions with quality of service.

Now HP wants to make its vision of the programmable network for business applications a reality and says that vision is not restricted to the datacenter but, to be truly effective, has SDN running from datacenters across all manner of wide area networks and all the way to the end user.

All very well, but this is where the HP SDN vision starts to get a bit blurred. Light Reading noted to Banic that while deploying SDN capabilities end-to-end across interconnected wide area networks is a fine idea, it's completely unworkable right now as it requires the support and buy-in of many different parties and network operators. The HP executive admitted that it would likely be at least 2020 before that sort of deployment would be possible. "We're encouraging companies to begin their SDN journeys now… we believe this will happen in time," he said.

There's also the not insignificant impact that end-to-end SDN would have on the very network operations teams that HP is hoping will buy into its vision. Won't that be a stumbling block? Banic admits that such deployments would "lead to a lesser need for network administrators… the automation will occur in domains and over time," he notes.

And how about the app store? When will that be open and ready for use? The SDK is almost ready for action (November 2013) but the app store will "go live later" once there is a decent body of available apps, with the first half of 2014 given as a guideline.

Money matters
HP ended its presentation of this development by showing off the motto "Make it simple, make it matter, make history."

But what about making money? What is the revenue model for the SDK and app store, for example? Is this really something that the two unfunded developers in a garage can get involved with?

There's little in the way of details. HP says it's still working on pricing and licensing models with its partners and also notes that there are certain HP support services, such as "HP SDN Developer Support" and the "SDN Learning Journey" training program, that those involved in the ecosystem might feel compelled by purchase in order to maximize the potential of the ecosystem.

So while the vision is grand and the execution is bold, there's a lot that HP still needs to communicate about what this will cost the developers, partners, and end users and what the timeframes will be for real world applicability.

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading


Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to Ethernet & SDN Expo, a Light Reading Live event that takes place Oct. 2-3, 2013 at the Javits Center in New York City. Co-located with Interop, Light Reading's Ethernet & SDN Expo will focus on how the convergence of Carrier Ethernet 2.0 with emerging carrier software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization technologies could change the whole telecom landscape for service providers. For more information, or to register, click here.


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sam masud
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sam masud,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/1/2013 | 2:24:16 PM
In the dark
No information on the app store on HP's web site. Let's see if HP is more forthcoming during the ESDN event. Very curious what HP is really talking about with this app store.
RolfSperber
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RolfSperber,
User Rank: Light Beer
10/1/2013 | 5:39:03 AM
SDN App Store
If you consider the complexity of multi domain, multi technology and multi layer networks and if above all that you want to include NFV the idea of an app repository with connectivity and service modules seems only natural. These apps or building blocks need to have standardized interfaces and in consequence any application utilizing network capacity can ask for a custom made virtual solution.
DOShea
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DOShea,
User Rank: Blogger
9/30/2013 | 4:28:28 PM
Re: App stores are mythical beasts in most markets
Will SDN get developers' juices flowing the way the iPhone did? Hard to imagine...

I agree with your view on app stores - there have been announces of app stores around business services and broadband at various times that  never really deeloped into trends.
@mbushong
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@mbushong,
User Rank: Moderator
9/30/2013 | 1:50:28 PM
App stores are mythical beasts in most markets
I like that HP has been hyper-aggressive in pursuing SDN. It shows that they are unafraid of new technology, and I think it speaks volumes to their willingness to innovate. 

But I am not sure I understand the App Store model. Creating an App Store is about making money - for the developers. The reason that the Apple App Store model worked is that Apple was providing a vibrant marketplace filled with lots of Apple consumers. And even if the consumers did not all exist when it was launched, there is a much larger expectation of volume in the consumer space where everyone owns a phone.

In the networking space, the number of controller application consumers is tiny even after the whole market emerges. So forgetting that the market is still nascent, even in the limit, there will be orders of magnitude fewer installed seats. And then keep in mind that the number of controllers will be orders of magnitude lower than the number of installed networking devices.

So who will buy these apps?

It gets even murkier if the controller market is fractured between OpenDaylight, BigSwitch, HP, NEC, NSX, and whoever.

With so few customers and no path to anyone getting dominant share in any app, the cost per app will have to be ridiculously high. But consumers won't pay a ton for some generic low-value application, so the barrier to entry for would-be app developers is going to be quite high.

I like trying to get first-mover advantage, but this move feels a bit forced to me. I am sure someone smarter than I has figured it all out, but from the outside, this one is tough to see playing out powerfully.

-Mike Bushong (@mbushong)

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