Dell officials want to position their networking offerings as a portfolio that businesses can leverage in whatever software-defined environment they embrace.
The burgeoning SDN space is beginning to gel around three "camps," according to Arpit Joshipura, vice president of product management and marketing for Dell Networks: vendors that are approaching SDN via virtualization hypervisors; greenfield and cloud computing environments that embrace OpenFlow-based solutions; and legacy environments in which businesses are looking to bring greater openness and automation.
Dell's goal is to offer solutions that can play in any of those camps and to leverage the data center expertise gained through decades of talking with enterprises about their workstations and servers, Joshipura told eWEEK.
"There will always be vendor camps, because they always come at it with their point of view," he said, adding that Dell's role is to offer products that can address any SDN environment. "Our approach has always been to be a complete, unbiased vendor."
The company on Feb. 7 rolled out a number of new offerings designed to do just that, unveiling a new top-of-rack networking switch that offers built-in virtualization support and greater automation capabilities. In addition, Dell announced support for the OpenFlow SDN protocol on existing switches.
Software-defined networking is designed to decouple network intelligence from the underlying hardware products, creating more flexible, dynamic and programmable networks that help businesses save time and money. Services like directing traffic, which normally is done in physical switches and routers, are instead controlled by software controllers.
Enterprise and vendor interest in SDNs continues to grow, with IDC analysts predicting that revenues in the market could hit $360 million this year and grow to $3.7 billion by 2016. In the mix are not only established networking vendors like Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Juniper Networks, but also startups like Big Switch Networks, Embrane and Plexxi, and tech vendors that until now have had a small presence in the networking space, such as VMware and Oracle.
Joshipura said that for Dell, the key to its SDN plans is to give enterprises working, available networking solutions that they can bring into their data centers now to begin down the SDN path. Software-defined networking is still in the early stages, but businesses can't afford to spend a lot of time experimenting, he said.
"They need enterprise-grade SDN," Joshipura said. "They have a business to run. They can't play around with products and protocols. … [What Dell is offering] is reality. This is generally available."
Dell for several years has been pushing to build up its enterprise IT solutions capabilities—a driving force behind executives' decision to take the company private to enable them to accelerate the transformation from being a PC and server maker. Dell in 2011 bought Force10 Networks to give it enterprise-level networking expertise, and Force10's technology—not only the hardware, but also the FTOS operating system—is the foundation of Dell's SDN strategy, said Joshipura, who was Force10's chief marketing officer at the time of the deal.
Dell's S4820T FTOS-based top-of-rack switch is designed for both high-performance data centers and cloud environments. With 10GBASE-T connectivity, the S4820T enables businesses to easily migrate from 1 Gigabit Ethernet to 10GbE, and the use of low-cost copper connectivity between servers and switches enables users to consolidate server I/O at 10GbE.
With the switch, users also can consolidate LAN and SAN traffic over iSCSI or Fibre Channel-over-Ethernet 10GbE fabrics. In addition, the switch offers four 40GbE uplinks, built-in virtualization support for VMware and Citrix Systems technology, integrated automation, scripting and programmatic management and interoperability with network interface cards (NICs) from the likes of Intel, Broadcom, Emulex and Qlogic.
Dell also is bringing OpenFlow support to FTOS for its data center switching products, starting with the Z9000 and S4810. The OpenFlow-based software will enable third-party OpenFlow-based software controllers, such as the Big Switch Controller from Big Switch Networks, to control Dell switches, dovetailing with Dell's "unbiased approach," Joshipura said.