Software-Defined Networking: There's More to It Than Just Hype

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2013-06-19 Print this article Print

Big Switch also is looking to offer a more complete solution with its Open SDN suite, which includes its Big Network Controller platform, Big Tap network monitoring tool and Big Virtual Switch, a network virtualization application.

There also are a range of startups offering point products that fill particular needs in SDN environments, Fabbi said.

As with anything in the networking space, Cisco gets a lot of attention. With SDN, Cisco's Open Network Environment (ONE) and OnePK (Platform Kit) are viewed as tools for helping the company defend its core networking business.

"They're really trying to protect their installed base by putting wrapping around it" and calling it SDN, Fabbi said. However, it won't be as open as is needed with SDN, given that it works best primarily with Cisco hardware, he said. Rivals were equally critical, with Big Switch's Matlof saying that "everything from Cisco is proprietary."

However, Cisco's Cooney pushed back. The company has OpenFlow-enabled some of its switches, it supports standards projects like OpenStack, is offering its ONE controller to the open-source community and its OnePK APIs allow third-party developers to create applications that can run atop Cisco's infrastructure, she said.

Brendon Whateley, principal solutions architect at Starview, which offers a business analytics and optimization platform, said his team is using Cisco's OnePK APIs to develop an application that will give customers much deeper visibility into their networking traffic. The company hopes to start selling the application later this year, Whateley told eWEEK. He said Starview chose Cisco's OnePK because it gave engineers APIs that can be used with all Cisco networking gear rather than only specific versions, making them much easier to use.

In addition, the OnePK APIs enabled the developers to create an application that goes deeper into the network than what they could have done in an OpenFlow environment.

Open standards will play a crucial role in the evolution of SDN, according to analysts and vendors. The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) was established by such companies as Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Verizon to help create a less complex, more programmable network, and has shepherded the development of OpenFlow. Other open standards groups, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), also are looking into SDN standards.

In April, a number of vendors, led by Cisco and IBM, created the OpenDaylight Project with the Linux Foundation, and their goal was to develop  a common open-source SDN platform—including the controller and southbound interfaces—that can be leveraged by vendors, who will compete at levels above the platform, including applications.

The project has generated some skepticism from vendors and analysts wary that it will be dominated by Cisco and IBM and will not lead to open, standards-based results, with many taking a wait-and-see approach.

"The ulterior motive for Cisco is to gain a voice in SDN, which they didn't have before," Gartner's Fabbi said.

Big Switch's Matlof called the project "a big question mark" because of Cisco's involvement. "If the industry is interested in open source and open standards in networking, do we really trust Cisco with this?"

Cisco's Cooney reiterated her company's support of open standards, noting the offer to give its Cisco Open Network Environment (ONE) controller to the project and its work on such groups as the ONF.

HP's Mayer stressed the need for open standards in everything from controllers to northbound and southbound interfaces.

"Those have to remain open, and we cannot allow [vendor lock-in] to happen, because then innovation will die and we just can't have that in the networking industry right now," she said.

Enterprise and service provider interest in SDN is high, according to analysts and vendors. Mayer said HP has more than 60 beta customers for its SDN offerings, and Cisco's Cooney said the ONE controller has more than 50 beta customers.

Starview's Whateley, who is using Cisco's OnePK APIs, said the hype around SDN is getting the interest of businesses like his, who understand what can be gained by the technology. However, for some, not a huge imperative exists yet to make the jump.

"There's a lot of 'that would be cool' stuff, and a lot less 'we can't live without that thing,'" he said.

Fabbi said that will come as the products begin to roll out.

"There certainly is very strong interest in the enterprise, but we're not quite there from the product side to flip the switch," he said.


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