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The Three Faces of SDN

Mitch Wagner
5/5/2014
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The loosey-goosey school
The other school of SDN tries to marry the SDN vision with traditional networks. The goal is to make the network more flexible, agile, and programmable, while making it easier for carriers and enterprises to preserve their network investment (and for vendors to keep selling what they've always been selling). This vision also has the advantage of making SDN purists turn red with anger and heat up until steam comes out of their ears, which is fun to watch.

Because it's embarrassing for grown people to say "loosey-goosey," people use "overlay networking" to refer to loosey-goosey SDN, because the SDN network is an overlay on top of the traditional network. Overlay networking is becoming mainstream now. It's embraced by companies including Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW), and startups like PlumGrid Inc. and Midokura . (See Cisco & VMware Are Apple & Google of SDN and Midokura Does Net Virtualization at Web Scale .)

In the long run, overlay networks are doomed, as are the proprietary switches underlying them. But the long run is a long way away. The data can't wait for the long run -- the data has to flow now.

Both schools of SDN require enormous business transformations for carriers. Carriers will need new skills. They'll need to reorganize their networking departments around managing software, rather than hardware. How long will that transition take? Ask me again in 20 years or so. The data center transition to open systems is still sending shockwaves that show no signs of ending soon.

But wait, there's more
I discussed the competing visions of SDN with IDC analyst Brad Casemore, and he pointed out a third faction struggling for the networking market: The hyperscale cloud providers. These include Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) and service providers including CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ). Enterprise cloud providers are looking to eliminate enterprise networks entirely and run everything in the cloud. They're likely to achieve success in SMBs at first. For example, Pertino offers cloud VPN services for SMBs.

This model is potentially apocalyptic. If this model succeeds, the enterprise switch-and-router market would dry up, as enterprises basically outsource their networks entirely to cloud providers. These cloud providers are today major customers of networking vendors, but they are also competitive threats. Cisco is trying to play multiple sides in this game -- a loosey-goosey networking vendor and also a cloud provider with its Intercloud strategy. (See Cisco's Cloud Bet: What's in It for SPs? and Can Cisco Help SPs Offer Cloud-based Apps?)

It's like The Game of Thrones. This TV show, and the books on which it's based, tell the stories of warring noble houses in a mythical kingdom. Each one of these houses wants to be the one to put a king on the throne, and they are all-consumed with fighting each other.

But what none of these houses realize -- at least not yet -- is that there's a vast zombie army, called the White Walkers, assembling in the arctic far north of the kingdom, and the White Walkers threaten to descend on the kingdom and sweep all the noble houses aside.

In this metaphor, the houses of Westeros are the traditional networking vendors, and the White Walkers are the cloud providers.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to wagner@lightreading.com.


Want to learn more about SDN and the transport network? Check out the agenda for Light Reading's Big Telecom Event (BTE), which will take place on June 17 and 18 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. The event combines the educational power of interactive conference sessions devised and hosted by Heavy Reading's experienced industry analysts with multi-vendor interoperability and proof-of-concept networking and application showcases. For more on the event, the topics, and the stellar service provider speaker lineup, see Telecommunication Luminaries to Discuss the Hottest Industry Trends at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event in June.

 

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Mitch Wagner
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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. 
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