Software-defined networking (SDN) is a revolution going on quietly behind closed doors. However, the media buzz surrounding the technology has been growing, and it proved a hot topic at last week’s Interop conference in Las Vegas, where a number of commercial products and supporting technologies were announced.
SDN is when the software is separated from the hardware that forwards packets. Marking a fundamental change to how networks are designed and run, it seems rather fitting that in the year IBM celebrates 50 years of its landmark mainframe computer, comparisons are being drawn between the current upheaval in the networking technology sector, and that which the computing industry witnessed in the mid-1980s.
Aspectus PR had the privilege of speaking to Nick McKeown, Stanford University professor and co-founder of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), for our current PR campaign for the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).
According to Nick, IBM in the mid-80s was to the computer industry what Cisco is to the networking industry today. IBM was building mainframe computers based on microprocessors it manufactured in-house, controlled and managed by an IBM developed operating system (OS), and running IBM’s proprietary applications.
This vertically-integrated and closed model of computing was turned on its head with the introduction of low-cost, off-the-shelf microprocessors by Motorola and Intel. These enabled development of much smaller and cheaper computers that lead to the commoditised PC market we know today.
Likewise, the advent of SDN is turning an industry that was vertically-integrated and closed into one that is horizontal and open. With smaller ‘white boxes’ based on off-the-shelf ‘merchant’ silicon and SDN replacing the routers and switches that have dominated carrier and enterprise networks thus far, McKeown argues that SDN is exposing the myth perpetuated by networking OEMs that it would be disastrous to split the components within routers and switches apart.
Sharing the message
The challenge however, is that major vendors don’t agree on what SDN actually is, or how it’s supposed to be implemented. With $billions in annual revenues at stake, a battle for control has ensued, most notably with Cisco announcing its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) – dubbed by one industry commentator as an ‘un-SDN answer to SDN’.
As with any battle for market share, communications will play a key role. Other major vendors of routing and switching equipment, such as HP and Juniper, are embracing SDN within their roadmaps. Juniper in particular, created an entertaining mock movie trailer introducing SDN for a presentation at last year’s Interop event aimed at dispelling some of the myths surrounding the technology.
What’s clear is that smaller brands offering white boxes now pose a serious challenge to the major vendors selling ‘closed boxes’. Merchant silicon and SDN enables carriers and enterprises to create and control networks that are cheaper, better fit for purpose, faster and more reliable. These are the messages that players such as AT&T and Google are disseminating.
In the words of the ONF’s Nick McKeown*: “This is the context in which the SDN revolution is taking place and it needs to be shared with a wider audience.”
Aspectus has done exactly this by developing compelling content from the interview with Nick to secure fantastic coverage in Information Age – a first for the IET’s Prestige Lecture Series – and with more to follow.
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*Nick McKeown will be delivering the IET Appleton Lecture on ‘Software Defined Networks and the Maturing of the Internet’ on Wednesday 30 April 2014, at the Royal Institution, London