SDN, Cloud Computing Acceptance Among Top Interop Trends

NEWS ANALYSIS: IT vendors are rushing to swear fealty to software-defined networking while enterprises are seriously considering moving data center resources to the cloud.

Interop is one of the last independent technology trade shows since many of the current crop of IT conferences have fallen into the morass of self-congratulatory vendor-specific events.

The conference piece of the exhibition has morphed along with the tech industry itself as cloud computing, mobility and big data have reshaped the corporate IT. This year’s event reflected those changes and highlighted some of the big trends continuing to sweep through the networking segment, which, after all, was the show’s original focus. Here are some of the top trends.

Everyone loves software-defined networking—whatever that is. Swearing fealty to software-defined networking is now an essential part of every vendor’s pitch. SDN is more a concept than a specific product selection, and that makes sorting out the vendor claims difficult.

Let’s just describe it as network moving from a provisioned to programmable environment and network administrators will have to become proficient at coding instead of manually manipulating network capacity.

This difficulty of pinning down SDN was highlighted in a keynote panel when Dell’s networking executive, Arpit Joshipura, noted there are three ways to get to SDN: (1) the proprietary method where a vendor takes what they have, puts it in the open community and calls it SDN; (2) use a software overlay approach to administer the network hardware underpinnings; or (3) take a purist approach using only open-source products and accepted protocols.

As Joshipura observed, multiple methods created a “fragmented approach” to SDN. In any case, the SDN banner was held high, although not everyone knew which kingdom the banner represented.

Enterprises are becoming cloud converts. Cloud computing, or at least networks that mimic cloud capabilities, is the corporate goal. The network has been the laggard on the road to the cloud, first in virtualization, which brought together the server and storage components of the IT infrastructure, and second in the evolution of virtualization into automated resource provisioning.

Network administration remains a manually intensive job in an era when business executives want to have networks automatically provision resources to meet demand. While few enterprise companies are ready to chuck all of their data center infrastructure and hand the entire business over to Amazon Web Services or Google, the model those scalable cloud service businesses used to build their infrastructures is the model which enterprise companies want to mimic. In this era, networks need to move from a data pipe to a service.

Then there is all of those Os. Open source, OpenStack, Open Networking Foundation, Open Daylight, Open Compute, Open Networking User Group and OpenFlow are only a partial list of all the opens which were scurrying around the Interop show floor.

As if the world needed one more O, Cisco introduced yet another O at Interop. This time it was OpFlex, which offers an alternative to OpenFlow which remains little more than a possibility for most enterprise networks.

Chasing and cataloging the Os has become a major activity for network administrators, analysts and tech journalists, but the very concept of interoperability (which is what Interop stands for) is now challenged by the big O competition. If you leave it up to the vendors, you will only find more Os vying for a place on your network. The user community will have to step up to end the O madness.

The networking skills you have are not the skills you will need. The best keynote was given by CTO Gregory Smith (full disclosure: he is a friend of mine, but it was still a good keynote). Smith looked at the very bizarre situation of application development and deployment in a world where Google and Apple control the selection and deployment (and the revenue) of mobile applications.

This leads to a world where companies have to build specific mobile apps for specific platforms and then spend dollars and help desk hours trying to keep track of platforms, versions and compatibility. Smith contends a strong emphasis on mobile virtualization would enable vendors to interact directly with customers—a concept which makes sense.

However, getting to that virtual mobile app nirvana will require rethinking the current app development process. Smith’s concept, along with the rise of the programmable corporate network, will require a retraining of the corporate tech workforce. The goal for future Interop’s and related conferences should be to provide that retraining both in person and on the Web. It should also be the goal of network administrators to push that retraining into their own workforce.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC WEEK) from 1996-2008 authored this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.