SDN architectures

Data Center Owners Doubt SDN

When network operators tout the potential of software-defined networking (SDN), most note that its first application will be in the data center, where the seamless connectivity of the growing number of virtual machines is high on operators' wish lists.

That's why I was surprised to hear a healthy dose of skepticism from two active data center owners, interconnect provider Peerless Network and data center developer Server Farm Realty (SFR).

[Note: This SFR should not be confused with French telco SFR, which is one of the operators trialing the Virtualized Services Platform, announced in April by Alcatel-Lucent's SDN spin-in, Nuage Networks. See Alcatel-Lucent Spins Up its SDN.]

Inside the cage, Peerless Network CEO John Barnicle shows Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left) his company's downtown data center in SFR's facility

SFR opened up a new state-of-the-art Tier 3 data center in Chicago Tuesday, and Light Reading got to take part in the official ribbon cutting.

While touring the facility, Tony Hiller, VP of engineering and operations at Peerless, admitted he was skeptical about the hype surrounding SDN and noted that, while Peerless was testing it, no operator was doing it yet at scale.

"Honestly, [SDN] has about as much potential as Carrier Ethernet exchange," he said. How much is that? Well, no one is making money on Carrier Ethernet exchange yet, he said.

SFR CEO Avner Popuchado was a little more optimistic. He said SFR was not implementing SDN capabilities, but it has a sister company, Raptor, which has SDN technology that SFR can use when it's ready. That will most likely be sometime in the next year to 18 months, he said.

"We do believe in it … No one is really doing it today, but people are thinking about it," he said, adding that on-demand network access and paying for what you use are big drivers of more flexible networks.

SDN may not be the big buzzword in Chicago, but efficiency in the data center -- something that SDN should enhance -- is a key concern for both Peerless and SFR.

And when they're ready to embrace SDN in their live data centers, it should be a relatively painless process. Most large data centers are already set up as simple Layer 3 networks with computing platforms that handle many of the networking functions. Peerless is no different, as it uses VMware Inc. technology throughout, along with Brocade Communications Systems Inc. routers and BTI Systems Inc. software. (See Brocade Spruces Up for Data Centers and What Applications Will Want from SDN.)

The SDN market is nearing the top of the hype cycle right now, ahead of the practicalities of real-world deployment. Whether it succeeds in revolutionizing network operations remains to be seen, but it's clear not every data center owner is betting the (server) farm on it just yet.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

Mat Mathews 6/12/2013 | 9:38:03 PM
re: Data Center Owners Doubt SDN It certainly does and has for many years! SS7 decoupled signaling from bearer very early on. Yet ironically the first VoIP and VoATM products on the market used embedded signalling, before MGCP, H.248 and eventually SIP led to better separation. But all of that was a decade ago, still way ahead of data networks.
brookseven 6/12/2013 | 8:07:17 PM
re: Data Center Owners Doubt SDN Mat,

Given your stance, I would say an SDN already exists in the Phone Network with SCPs and STPs :).

sam masud 6/12/2013 | 7:01:05 PM
re: Data Center Owners Doubt SDN True...and looking forward to your webinar with Calient.
Sarah Thomas 6/12/2013 | 6:04:26 PM
re: Data Center Owners Doubt SDN Thanks for chiming in, Tony. And, I think the eye roll was certainly justified. :) I thought Avner's timeline of 12 to 18 months seemed practical given the scale of the upgrade. By then the hype will have hopefully given way to practical implementations for most.
Mat Mathews 6/12/2013 | 4:56:38 PM
re: Data Center Owners Doubt SDN This is a very practical and IMO correct approach Tony, thanks for sharing. As a vendor that is sometimes lumped into the "SDN" crowd, we think that SDN isn't a thing in itself, but actually a methodology, somewhat akin to Object Oriented Programming. The next network you buy will likely have some aspects of SDN capabilities in it, whether it leverages a decoupled control plane in some way, some type of L2 extension capability, or other "less tightly coupled" ways to manipulate and orchestrate the network resources. Ultimately SDN is just networking, and unfortunately as an industry we've turned our architectural evolution steps into marketing as if its something you should buy instead of networking and this has rightfully made many roll their eyes.

Mat @ Plexxi
Tony Hiller 6/12/2013 | 3:31:57 PM
re: Data Center Owners Doubt SDN Hi, Sarah. As anyone who knows me will attest, I tend to roll my eyes at a lot of things, especially whatever buzzwords are hot at that moment.

Overall, we are cautiously optimistic about SDN, and its role in a carrier environment. We are looking at the various possibilities now and are testing things in our lab environment, but expect it will be a long time before SDN controllers can truly replace traditional routing and switching in a carrier backbone. The geek in me loves it...but we've got a business to run too.
Sarah Thomas 6/12/2013 | 2:05:18 PM
re: Data Center Owners Doubt SDN Both Tony and Avner seemed pretty unimpressed with SDN (especially Tony, who rolled his eyes when I asked about it). But, their doubt was more about the hype and promise around it. I think both will move in that direction, they just aren't as excited as a lot of the other vendors and operators I've talked to.
sam masud 6/12/2013 | 2:02:13 PM
re: Data Center Owners Doubt SDN Not sure if the headline fits the article, which suggests that SFR is open to SDN. Also, since SDN holds the potential to reduce opex, not sure why a data center operator would not be interested in SDN. But agree that there's a lot of work to be done on SDN.
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