It's Open Season for OpenFlow

Software-defined networking -- OpenFlow in particular -- has had a busy few days. Consider:

  • Nicira Networks Inc. launched Monday morning, at midnight Eastern time, to no small amount of media buzz. The startup has been watched particularly keenly, partly because it's been more secretive than Big Switch Networks . (They're cousin companies, both born of the original OpenFlow research at Stanford.) (See Nicira Launches and Show & Tell: Big Switch's Startup Life.)

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) appears to be resisting OpenFlow. At a customer/partner event in London last week, CTO Padmasree Warrior made remarks that could indicate a proprietary SDN strategy is unfolding -- at least, that's how SearchNetworking interpreted it. One quote from Cisco VP Ram Velaga is that OpenFlow isn't production-ready.

    (That doesn't mean OpenFlow will never appear at Cisco. (See Cisco Will Support OpenFlow.))
  • And, as we reported, last week HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) became the first vendor to declare OpenFlow support for a range of products. Switches, anyway. I'm not sure if HP is interested in offering an OpenFlow controller. (See HP Takes OpenFlow Commercial.)

    Yes, it's a lot of hype, but OpenFlow really could change the way networks are designed. The argument is tied to cloud computing and the virtualization craze. You can flit from one server to another when using an application, but you're still frozen in your choices of how to get to that server. Hence, the terms like Nicira's Network Virtualization Platform or Big Switch's intentions to become the VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) of the network.

    It will be interesting to see the reviews Nicira gets from the critics. Scale is a big part of the company's pitch, as I recall from hints CTO Martin Casado dropped at the Open Networking Summit in September. Ivan Pepelnjak notes on his blog on ipSpace.net. Nicira's platform looks good for "very large data centers building IaaS infrastructure with Linux-based server," he writes.

    Like any overexposed technology, OpenFlow will have its backlash, and I think it's seed is in Pepelnjak's comments. People will realize that OpenFlow is not going to be that useful in every single network, and that will lead to talk of the technology being overhyped. In the long run, though, I think OpenFlow -- or some SDN technology just like it -- will become the norm in networking.

    — Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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