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Most of the focus of software-defined networks (SDNs) has been on how it impacts the layer 2/3 switch vendors. The industry seems to have moved off of this notion that it commoditizes the underlying infrastructure, but recently another question has come up. Big Switch recently launched the company and related products, one of which is called “Big Tap,” that provide traffic visibility functionality similar to what one might get from vendors such as Gigamon and VSS. This has raised a question: are SDNs a death knell to the traffic visibility vendors?

I looked at this and then talked to a number of customers, including Big Switch, and I believe the information that one can get out of an SDN-led product to be very much complementary to the traffic visibility market, not competitive. Think of “Big Tap” as being traffic visibility light where they provide a very basic level of information. The level of information that one gets from the dedicated vendors is much richer and more granular than what one would get from Big Tap.

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Well, it’s hard to believe but the year is almost up and there are only a mere couple of weeks until we ring in the New Year. So that makes it prediction time for us industry analysts and I’d like to share mine with you. So, drum roll please…

  • 2013 will not be the year of Software Defined Networks. The media hype around SDNs is at an all-time high. However, contrary to some of the predictions I’ve seen, 2013 will not be the year of the SDN as most enterprise network managers are trying to figure out what exactly SDNs are and how they can leverage them. The notion that a technology with such a big architectural difference from the status quo could have rapid uptake is as ridiculous as thinking that Mark Sanchez might actually make a good QB one day. I predict that 2013 will be the year of SDN research, and we’ll start to see some best practices developed and some case studies created.
  • The Application Delivery Controller (ADC) will become part of SDN architecture. I’ve never really liked the term “software” defined networks because software shouldn’t define anything. Software can reconfigure the network, but applications should define it. If that’s the case, what network device has the most knowledge of applications? The ADC does and that’s why the ADC either needs to pass along application information to the controller or actually take on controller functionality. Either way, we’ll see market leader F5 and its band of competitors become relevant to SDNs.
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For decades, networks have been built on closed, proprietary infrastructure. It’s what’s allowed vendors to create unique features and differentiate themselves. Those features are what have enabled the networks to be as reliable, secure and resilient as they have been in the past. However, over the past couple of years it seems that “open” has become the new black when it comes to network infrastructure and every major vendor now has some degree of openness, although may not be 100% open (I’ll define later). Recently, though, I ran across a startup called Pica8 that is, by far, the most open networking vendor that I have seen to date.

Before I get into the specifics of Pica8, let me define why open networking has become all the rage and what it actually means.

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This morning Brocade announced it would acquire privately held open source networking software company Vyatta. The rise of software defined networks seems to be a legitimate problem the Vyatta solution can solve. Founded back in 2005, Vyatta has struggled to find a use case for its virtual routing capabilities over the years, remaining a niche company used by network engineers who like to experiment on the network. I’ve always said the branch router segment of Cisco’s business might be the most difficult market share to cut into, as the Integrated Services Router (ISR) is the de facto standard branch router.

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This morning Oracle announced the acquisition of Xsigo Systems and there has been a frenzy of media coverage around it, primarily because it follows VMware’s acquisition of Nicira, creating speculation of future acquisitions and many implications to the future of IT. However, some of the positioning of this acquisition was just flat out wrong.

I first want to dispel some of the myths about what Xsigo does and the type of vendor it is. I’ve seen it compared to other SDN vendors, such as Nicira and Big Switch, but Xsigo is not an SDN vendor. From a very high level I would agree that Xsigo creates virtual network connections through software, so I guess it may be technically correct, but it isn’t an OpenFlow-based software controller that can automate the configuration of network changes, which is what “SDN”s have largely become. Xsigo is virtual I/O. The company sits between servers, storage and network infrastructure and virtualizes I/O connections, and does a great job of it.

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This week Extreme Networks joined the list of vendors that have unveil their software defined networking (SDN) strategies. In my opinion, it’s one of the better SDN announcements in that it was both broad and deep, highlighting some of Extreme’s long-standing strengths.

One of the fundamental tenets of an SDN is that it enables programmability of the network. Accomplishing network programmability across its product line was relatively easy for Extreme as its XOS operating system has had a high degree of programmability for years now. I remember talking to Extreme about “programmability” about five years ago, but there was little interest in it then. The company had a few strong proof points but the interest certainly wasn’t near what it is today.

Specifically, what the company announced was support for multiple OpenFlow controllers, including NEC and BigSwitch. Additionally, Extreme announced a Quantum API-based plug-in for OpenStack. The combination gives developers, cloud providers and others interested in SDN a number of programmability options, including APIs, SDKs as well as a handful of Extreme-designed, purpose-built applications.

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