ANAHEIM, Calif. -- OFC/NFOEC 2013 -- Everyone here has a software-defined networking (SDN) story. They all seem to point to a future of simpler networks that, with the help of virtualization, are much easier to control.
But how hard will network equipment vendors really work for that goal when they have huge installed bases of routers and switches to protect? The status quo for those firms commands bigger margins now than if all or part of their networking functions were suddenly being handled on standard servers.
Stanford University professor Nick McKeown says a lot of the vendors that say they're on board with SDN are only adding more code to support SDN-like interfaces and functions to specialized control planes inside of vertically integrated, proprietary routers and switches and gateways. In the hallways, after his plenary talk here, he was even more fired up. "I'm feeling sorry for the service providers who have to wade through that garbage," McKeown says.
SDN, if done correctly, doesn't change the functionality of the network -- it moves those functions around. And, when the transport network's control and forwarding plane are separated, innovation can happen more quickly and less expensively, McKeown says.
When I pressed him for a real-life application that could be the result of the simpler networks that SDN promises, he didn't disappoint. "You know how you have network neutrality now," he asked. "What if the customer could flip it around and tell the service provider: 'I'd like to give preference in my home network to Netflix.'"
It would be interesting to see a service provider offering its network as a service and trusting its customers to provision network tasks via some portal or app that controls some virtual abstraction of its physical network. Indeed, it'd be nice to be billed for what you provision and use on that network, not just for the privilege of connecting to it and hardly using it.
The general idea of a more services-oriented and software-defined telco is appealing. Some optical networking vendors here are getting on board with discussions to see how SDN-enabler OpenFlow will work in optical networks.
McKeown, in his plenary presentation slides, says that SDN will get to simpler, more innovative networks, but first the big router and switch makers have to agree to get out of the way: "Networks will be in service of the owner, the operator, the customer and the application rather than just the high-margin vendor."
— Phil Harvey, Editor, Light Reading
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