Light Reading

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  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
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
The industry is at an inflection point, and one of the looming disruptors is 5G.
Network architects aiming to upgrade their networks to support agile, open, virtualized services in the 21st century need to consider new criteria when choosing between technology suppliers.
Cable companies still dominate the scene at INTX, the event formerly known as The Cable Show.
What is the best way to support both layer 2 and layer 3 services at the edge of the network that incorporates virtual network functions?
How fast is too fast in terms of communication? Unless our lives and actions start being measured in seconds, do we really need a 43 Tbps connection to fulfill our everyday tasks?
Flash Poll
From The Founder
Last week I dropped in on "Hotlanta," Georgia to moderate Light Reading's inaugural DroneComm conference – a unique colloquium investigating the potential for drone communications to disrupt the world's telecom ecosystem. As you will see, it was a day of exploration and epiphany...
LRTV Documentaries
Verizon's Emmons: SDN Key to Cost-Effective Scaling

5|22|15   |   03:53   |   (0) comments


For Verizon and other network operators to ramp up available bandwidth cost effectively, they need to move to SDN and agree on how to do that.
LRTV Documentaries
Lack of Universal SDN a Challenge

5|21|15   |   04:51   |   (3) comments


Heavy Reading Analyst Sterling Perrin talks about how uncertainty about SDN standards and approaches may be slowing deployment.
LRTV Custom TV
Steve Vogelsang Interview: Carrier SDN

5|20|15   |   05:02   |   (0) comments


Sterling Perrin speaks to Steve Vogelsang, Alcatel-Lucent CTO for IP Routing & Transport business, about the new Carrier SDN-enabling Network Services Platform and the operator challenges it solves.
LRTV Custom TV
Carrier SDN: On-Demand Networks for an On-Demand World

5|20|15   |   20:52   |   (0) comments


Steve Vogelsang, Alcatel-Lucent CTO for IP Routing & Transport business, talks about requirements and benefits of Carrier SDN during the keynote address at the Light Reading Carrier SDN event May 2015.
LRTV Documentaries
The Security Challenge of SDN

5|19|15   |   02:52   |   (0) comments


CenturyLink VP James Feger discusses concerns that virtualization could create new vulnerabilities unless network operators build in safeguards.
LRTV Custom TV
NFV Elasticity – Highly Available VNF Scale-Out Architectures for the Mobile Edge

5|18|15   |   5:50   |   (0) comments


Peter Marek and Paul Stevens from Advantech Networks and Communications Group talk about their NFV Elasticity initiative and the company's latest platforms for deploying virtual network functions at the edge of the network. Packetarium XL and the new Versatile Server Module: 'designed to reach parts of the network that other servers cannot reach.'
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Bay Area Spark Meetup 2015

5|14|15   |   3:54   |   (0) comments


Developed in 2009, Apache Spark is a powerful open source processing engine built around speed, ease of use and sophisticated analytics. This spring, Huawei hosted a meetup for Spark developers and data scientists in Santa Clara, California. Light Reading spoke with organizers and attendees about Huawei's code contributions and long-term commitment to Spark.
LRTV Custom TV
The Transport SDN Buzz

5|12|15   |   06:01   |   (1) comment


Sterling Perrin, senior analyst at Heavy Reading, speaks with Peter Ashwood-Smith of Huawei and Guru Parulkar of ON.Lab about the evolution of transport SDN and the integration of technologies.
LRTV Custom TV
Next-Generation CCAP: Cisco cBR-8 Evolved CCAP

5|5|15   |   04:49   |   (0) comments


John Chapman, Cisco's CTO of Cable Access Business Unit and Cisco Fellow, explained the innovation design of Cisco's cBR-8, the industry's first Evolved CCAP, including DOCSIS 3.1 design from ground-up, distributed CCAP with Remote PHY and path to virtualization. Cisco's cBR-8 Evolved CCAP is the platform that will last through the transitions.
LRTV Custom TV
Meeting the Demands of Bandwidth & Service Group Growth

5|1|15   |   5:35   |   (0) comments


Jorge Salinger, Comcast's Vice President of Access Architecture, explains how DOCSIS 3.1 and multi-service CCAP can meet the demands of the bandwidth and service group growth.
LRTV Custom TV
DOCSIS 3.1: Transforming Cable From Hardware-Defined Network to Software-Defined Network

4|29|15   |   03:48   |   (0) comments


John Chapman, Cisco's CTO of Cable Access Business Unit and Cisco Fellow, explains how DOCSIS 3.1 can transform cable HFC network to a more agile software-defined network.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Predicting Traffic Patterns for Quality Mobile Broadband

4|29|15   |   6:45   |   (0) comments


Accessing information ubiquitously creates complexity and creates heavy traffic onto the network, especially at large-scale events like sporting events or festivals. In this video, Huawei's Mohammad Hussain speaks to experts about how to predict traffic and improve user experience during periods of heavy traffic.
Upcoming Live Events
June 8, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 10, 2015, Chicago, IL
September 29-30, 2015, The Westin Grand Müchen, Munich, Germany
October 6, 2015, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
October 6, 2015, Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Network functions virtualization (NFV) is not the easiest of topics to take on board, so here's a Light Reading infographic, developed following conversations with the folks at HP, that helps make sense of where NFV is taking the industry.
Hot Topics
10 Alternate Uses for Tablets
Eryn Leavens, Copy Desk Editor, 5/22/2015
Verizon Saves 60% Swapping Copper for Fiber
Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, 5/19/2015
Choosing a Technology Supplier? Consider Changing Your Selection Criteria
Steve Saunders, CEO and founder, Light Reading, 5/18/2015
Bidding War for TWC Looks Likelier
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, 5/22/2015
Chattanooga Charts Killer Gigabit Apps
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 5/20/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
With 200 customers in 60 countries, Stockholm-based Net Insight has carved out a solid leadership position in one of the hottest vertical markets going in comms right now: helping service providers and broadcasters deliver video and other multimedia traffic over IP networks. How has Net Insight managed to achieve this success in the face of immense competition from the industry giants?
My ongoing interview tour of the leading minds of the telecom industry recently took me to Richardson, Texas, where I met with Rod Naphan, CTO and SVP, Solutions, ...
I recently popped down to Texas to chat with CEO Eric L. Pratt about his company, Taqua.
Cats with Phones