Light Reading
Vendors are vying to define SDN in ways that advantage their own products. Meanwhile, the threat from cloud providers looms like a zombie army in the distance.

The Three Faces of SDN

Mitch Wagner
5/5/2014
50%
50%

As software-defined networking (SDN) becomes more popular, vendors wrestle to promote visions of the technology that put their own products in the best light. That's natural for the lifecycle of any emerging technology -- every vendor needs to be able to say, "We do that."

I separate the vendors into three different buckets. This is not rigorous at all, just a handy mental guide to help think about SDN. The three buckets are the Pure Players, the loosey-goosey school, and the zombie army of the White Walkers. (For a more rigorous definition of SDN, see Defining SDN & NFV.)

Pure players
The pure vision of SDN is built on dumb commodity switches, with all the intelligence running in central controllers, as described by OpenFlow and the Open Networking Foundation. The vendors in this bucket either sell commodity switches, like Big Switch Networks and Pica8 Inc. , or they sell software, as in the case of Cumulus Networks. (See Murray Leads Big Switch Into Bare Metal Battle, Pica8 Adds Muscle to ABC – 'Anybody But Cisco', and Cumulus Intros Network OS.)

The goal for the vendors in this bucket is to make the network more flexible. Carrier networks lag far behind data centers in flexibility and virtualization. Data centers began switching from proprietary to commodity hardware in the 90s, and that technology became standard in the 2000s. Networks are just now beginning that transition. The result is that you have incredibly sophisticated virtual data centers that can be configured on the fly entirely in software. When you configure the network underlying those virtual servers, that requires hardware changes. You need to send out a guy wearing a Game of Thrones T-shirt to move around hardware and plug things in manually.

Changes take weeks. This contributes to a perception that carriers are hard to work with and slow. That's not a good way for a business to be perceived.

The pure vision of SDN puts all those changes in software, which saves on opex. And the hardware is inexpensive and interchangeable, so carriers and enterprises save a lot of money on capex.

More importantly, carriers suddenly become as flexible as cloud providers. They can provision networks in minutes or hours. Combine SDN with NFV, and suddenly carriers can replace CPE with software, and do neat business things like offer 30-day trials of new services. Indeed, SDN (and its cousin NFV) are vital tools to help carriers make the transition to cloud providers. (See Why Verizon Needed a Cloud Reboot, NTT Taps SDN to Enhance Cloud Flexibility, and A Peek Inside CenturyLink's Cloud Expansion.)

The problem is that this kind of transition is a huge task. Data centers took decades to make the transition to open systems. Linux Torvalds released the first version of Linux in 1991. The technology required 20 years to mature, until finally Sun Microsystems, the queen of dotcom servers, fell to competitive pressure and was acquired by Oracle in 2010.

Will the transition to SDN be faster now that open systems in the data center have paved the way? Perhaps, but we're still talking about the better part of a decade at least. Service providers, particularly Tier 1s, have billions of dollars of sunk costs in traditional networking. Only a fool would burn all that down to make a greenfield start. The transition will be gradual and cautious.

However, even in the short term, we'll start seeing niches where SDN is valuable. SDN provides competitive pressure on traditional switch vendors like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), and Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD).

Next page: The loosey-goosey school

(13)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Page 1 / 2 Next >
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
5/10/2014 | 3:39:00 PM
Re: Seems relevant
Oh, I think I see. Companies will save on opex through SDN, but the flexibility will create more demand for services and more demand on the network, leading to greater opex overall. Is that it?
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
5/10/2014 | 3:36:05 PM
Re: Tightening up the loosey-goosey face of SDN...
How can a company use a DIY approach to a public cloud? The essence of public cloud is to let an outside company (Microsoft, Amazon, etc.) run the cloud service for you. That's the very opposite of the defition of DIY. 

Likewise, you can't have a hybrid model on an all-private cloud. A hybrid cloud is part-public, part-private, whilea  private cloud is all-private. 

What am I missing?
sam masud
50%
50%
sam masud,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/9/2014 | 1:39:59 PM
Re: Seems relevant
Mitch,

Sorry if my post came across as an oxymoron (or maybe just moronic), but what I meant is that overall opex will increase because SDN will make it easier to tailor more services/apps to more subs. I could be wrong, but that would not be the first time :-)

 
Houman0
50%
50%
Houman0,
User Rank: Light Beer
5/8/2014 | 7:19:13 PM
Re: Tightening up the loosey-goosey face of SDN...
Thanks Mitch!

In fact either private or public clouds can be built using a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) or shrink-wrapped model. Just that the priorities & needs they optimize for are different. Leading enterprises for whom IT is a critical asset (like financials, healthcare, and many manufacturing concerns) often lean toward picking best of breed sub-components and want the flexibility to mix and match to maximize performance, control/auditing & economics for their most essential apps. 

The hybrid cloud certainly emerges in popularity (initially more in theory than practice) as companies want to burst flexibly outside and above the bounds of their private clouds. But again, hybrid "environments" are more a more practical & important consideration today.

And hybrid environments exist everywhere, even in private clouds.  A hybrid environment, for instance, is one in which an enterprise wants to use different hypervisors (say KVM in some racks or datacenters, and ESXi or XEN in others), or has an established VMWare environment in place but also has several OpenStack projects underway in parallel. All of that could (and is) easily be happening in their private cloud.

Using a properly designed overlay virtualization approach, with a policy framework that is agnostic to the network infrastructure, that can be accomplished today and that's pretty cool.

It's definitely a gold star for some of us in the loosey-goosey camp :)
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
5/8/2014 | 4:32:32 PM
Re: Tightening up the loosey-goosey face of SDN...
Hi, houman - Absolutely, Nuage is doing fine work and they belong on the list. 

I suspect that what you are calling "DIY" and "shrink-wrapped" are what many people call "private" and "public." And there's a  third model too, gaining popularity: Hybrid. 
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
5/8/2014 | 4:25:56 PM
Re: Seems relevant
sam masud - Sorry, I don't understand your question? Isn't "lower opex" the same as "comparatively lower"?
Houman0
50%
50%
Houman0,
User Rank: Light Beer
5/8/2014 | 4:22:08 PM
Tightening up the loosey-goosey face of SDN...
Hi Mitch,

There's more to the "loosey-goosey" face than meets the eye, and let's not forget Nuage Networks in that camp. (see http://ubm.io/1jlBxQG ). Especially to the extent that the flexibility of well-implemented overlays is combined with appropriate underlay awareness, and a common policy framework can be applied across all assets (virtualized or bare metal), in hybrid environments, across different hypervisors, agnostic to the network equipment, then you've actually got something pretty tight & useful... For Westeros & White Walkers alike, by the way...

As for whether overlays are doomed in the long run, lets check back in the long run. Other overlay approaches took a while to get right (VPNs), but have withstood the test of time pretty nicely.  

Underlays & overlays aside, and perhaps more fundamentally, there are 2 basic models for the cloud: The "DIY" model & the "shrink-wrapped" model. They each have merit and will co-exist, serving different needs with different economics & different tradeoffs. Some of the world's largest enterprises indeed do and will deploy both, for different reasons. What remains common, though, is that you want to be able to abstract network capabilities (what the network can do for the application) from how the network does it, and make that all policy-driven and instantaneous.

If you do, then "loosey-goosey" starts to turn "righty-tighty"...

Thanks Mitch!

houman

@modarres
sam masud
50%
50%
sam masud,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/7/2014 | 4:33:34 PM
Re: Seems relevant
FakeMitchWagner:


I keep hearing that the payoff with SDN will be lower opex, but given that SDN is the ITization of the network, are we in fact saying opex will be COMPARATIVELY lower with implementation of SDN (as opposed trying to do the same thing with traditional networks--e.g. service chaining)?
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
5/6/2014 | 6:18:00 PM
Re: Seems relevant
I don't see intelligence residing in the switch or controller as an either/or, but rather a spectrum. 

For the encroachment of IT into telco, how about "datacentrification?"
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
5/6/2014 | 6:16:00 PM
Re: The Three Faces of SDN
Yes, if SDN does take off we can expect to see it on new areas, while legacy networks continue to be maintained. As long as something is working and fit for purpose there's no sense ripping it out and replacing, even if the new thing is better. 
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
More Blogs from Column
PICMG, which develops open modular standards for embedded computing, looks ahead to the next decade.
As it embraces SDN and NFV, the networking industry needs to ensure it doesn't create new silos and repeat the innovation-stifling mistakes of its past.
Give it up for the optical specialists who are more than mere 'plumbers.'
Operators can cut the cost and complexity of extending legacy services to all-IP environments.
Flash Poll
From The Founder
It's clear to me that the communications industry is divided into two types of people, and only one is living in the real world.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
2014 Huawei Electric Power Industry Summit: Interview With CEO of SwitchCom

10|30|14   |   4:13   |   (0) comments


SwitchCom, an IT company based in Angola, recommends a variety of Huawei solutions and hardware to their customers in the energy industry.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
2014 Huawei Electric Power Industry Summit: Interview With Ethiopia's Ministry of Water Irrigation & Energy

10|30|14   |   4:08   |   (0) comments


Gosaye Mengistie of Ethiopia's Ministry of Water Irrigation & Energy discusses the collaboration with Huawei in that country.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
2014 Huawei Electric Power Industry Summit: Interview with Dongfang Electronics Corporation

10|30|14   |   5:46   |   (0) comments


Dongfang Electronics Corporation, headquartered in Chengdu, China, is one of China's largest manufacturers of power generators and contractors of power station projects.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
2014 Huawei Electric Power Industry Summit: Interview with Zimbabwe's Customers

10|30|14   |   3:31   |   (0) comments


Representatives of Zimbabwe's Ministry of Power and Development discuss the energy needs of their country as well as new areas of improvement due to enhanced ICT capabilities.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
2014 Huawei Electric Power Industry Summit: Interview With Colbún Chile

10|30|14   |   4:29   |   (0) comments


In Chile, an aging energy infrastructure was in dire need of a modern update. Claudio Valenzuela of Colbún discusses how Huawei's ICT solutions continue to provide crucial information to improve the grid and how an in-country engineer is a cricial asset.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
2014 Huawei Electric Power Industry Summit: Interview With YuLiao

10|30|14   |   6:27   |   (0) comments


Yu Liao, chairman of the Chinese Association for Renewable Energy in Germany, discusses the role that ICT solutions play in helping to grow renewable energy resources in Germany.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
2014 Huawei Electric Power Industry Summit: Interview

10|30|14   |   2:54   |   (0) comments


Sifang has been working with Huawei on several projects. JingTao Wu, Assistant President of Beijing Sifang Automation Co. Ltd., believes that the cooperation with Huawei can facilitate Sifang's process of internationalization.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
A Better Connected Smart Grid: Powering Laos

10|30|14   |   5:38   |   (0) comments


Representatives of Electricite Du Laos (EDL), a state-owned corporation, discuss the importance of ICT solutions in serving their country's energy needs.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
2014 Huawei Electric Power Industry Summit: Interview With Junwei Lu

10|30|14   |   4:50   |   (0) comments


Professor Junwei Lu of Griffith University Australia describes his work with micro grid technology and the future of the power industry.
LRTV Documentaries
The Next-Gen Network Disconnect

10|29|14   |   01:23   |   (0) comments


There's a lot of talk about making networks more simple with SDN, NFV and next-gen broadband technology – but what about the complexity of introducing such capabilities?
LRTV Custom TV
Grow Your VPN Service Revenue

10|27|14   |   4:00   |   (0) comments


Watch how CSP product managers can better differentiate and maximize the value of their Internet, VPN and cloud services for business services customers, by adding premium application performance visibility to their data services.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Add SmartSense to Make Your Network Ready for 4K

10|27|14   |   3:23   |   (0) comments


To make current networks ready for the coming 4K TV challenges, Huawei SmartSense solution will conveniently add experience and operation capabilities to boost telcos' future business.
Upcoming Live Events
November 6, 2014, Santa Clara
November 11, 2014, Atlanta, GA
December 2, 2014, New York City
December 3, 2014, New York City
December 9-10, 2014, Reykjavik, Iceland
February 10, 2015, Atlanta, GA
May 6, 2015, McCormick Convention Center, Chicago, IL
May 30, 2015, The Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
Infographics
WhoIsHostingThis.com presents six of the world's most extreme WiFi hotspots, enabling the most epic selfies you can imagine.
Hot Topics
Microsoft's Skype Embraces WebRTC on IE
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 10/27/2014
FTC Slaps AT&T With Throttling Lawsuit
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 10/28/2014
China's MVNOs Hit the Wall
Robert Clark, 10/27/2014
Let's Not Kill SDN & NFV With Silos
Francois Locoh-Donou, Senior VP, Global Products Group, Ciena, 10/28/2014
Wheeler Gets Down With OTT
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 10/29/2014
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed