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Posts Tagged ‘Software-Defined Networking’

Happy Cinco De Mayo to all, and I hope everyone had a great Star Wars weekend (May the 4th be with all of you!). It appears that, while many of us were watching Star Wars movies (2-6 I hope, as everyone hates 1) or planning a big Mexican feast, the folks over at Viptela were also busy. Monday morning, like a Jedi in the shadows, Viptela came out of stealth mode a week after CloudGenix launched, to add to the WAN disruption frenzy. I’m guessing CloudGenix launched last week so the executives could have a rich, fun-filled Star Wars weekend.

Like CloudGenix, Viptela is focused on building a more dynamic, agile WAN. Viptela this week announced what it is calling the Viptela Secure Extensible Network (SEN), which enables companies to deploy, manage and secure WANs easily and cost effectively. Also, just as importantly, the company brings a high level of simplification to the ongoing operations and change management to the WAN. The agility of the WAN becomes increasingly important as business applications continue to evolve, requiring rapid changes to optimize the performance of the WAN.

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This may be hard to believe, but OpenFlow is now about four years old, and late last year version 1.4 of OpenFlow was unveiled. This week, startup Pica8 became the first vendor to support 1.4, which may be the first OpenFlow version that’s ready for prime time. OpenFlow features a number of new features, improvements, and one change.

The new features are:

  • Bundles. The bundles feature of OpenFlow 1.4 enables a group of OpenFlow messages to be “bundled” as a single, which allows for better synchronization of changes across as series of switches. This is similar to a “commit” of multiple configuration changes in traditional layer 2/3 environments.
  • Optical ports. In 1.4, support for Optical ports has been added. OpenFlow can now be used to configure or monitor optical ports, which brings FiberChannel over Ethernet into, play in an SDN. This also allows for higher-speed transmission rates to be used in the SDN.
  • Synchronized tables. Flow tables can now be synchronized uni-directionally or bi-directionally. This has some implications on the way data flows are synchronized to transmissions of data. This effectively doubles the TCAM scalability of the switch.

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It seems that we in the networking industry have been talking about evolving the WAN for well over 20 years now. The traditional “hub and spoke” WAN that we’ve all grown accustomed to was ideally suited for client/server computing, where users were in branches and applications were located in the data center.

Over the years there have been small, incremental changes to the WAN that have improved the performance and security of the network. MPLS is now the de facto standard instead of frame-relay and WAN optimization has become a core service for many organizations. These changes did indeed improve the WAN marginally, but it’s time to overhaul and re-architect the WAN.

Most companies have survived with a legacy WAN for years, so why do I now think WAN evolution is a business imperative? The primary reason is that compute is shifting from client/server and the internet to cloud and mobile. Cloud and mobile computing create entirely different traffic patterns than legacy computing models. Also, business agility is a top priority for company leaders, and that drives the need for IT agility and, more specifically, network agility. As a result, today’s networks are highly inflexible.

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Why do customers pay a premium for Cisco? My research shows that Cisco owns about 75% of switching share but only about 55% of port share, showing Cisco’s obvious revenue per port advantage over everyone else. Why does this discrepancy exist? I know some of you will disagree with this, but in general, customers pay up for Cisco infrastructure because it does more stuff faster than competitive products.

One good example of this is the evolution of power over Ethernet (PoE). Years before the PoE standards were ratified, Cisco rolled out its own version of PoE that gave customers PoE capabilities, while the rest of the industry was arguing in the standards bodies. Cisco got a huge, early-mover advantage by having a solution two years ahead of the field. Then, when the standard was ratified, Cisco supported it.

Cisco has maintained this advantage as remains the only vendor with 60W POE today. There are many, many examples of this. EIGRP is a faster, better protocol than RIP; for years Skinny had more features than SIP; EtherChannel was great for port aggregation, and the list goes on. Some vendors scream “vendor lock in” and “proprietary,” but the fact is that Cisco supports all the standards. But customers prefer the Cisco version since it does more.

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Software Defined Networking (SDNs) has been the hottest topic in networking over the past few years, and will likely continue to be over the next couple. It’s certainly dominated the traffic on this site and others.

Despite the high interest levels from network managers and the media, SDN adoption remains somewhat light. While the concepts of automation, centralized control, and programmability make sense to most network managers, where to deploy an SDN first isn’t really that obvious. From a utopian perspective, one would want to apply the principals of SDNs to the entire network all at once. Bringing in a dose of reality, though, most organizations simply can’t be that aggressive with network changes without putting the business at risk. For many companies, the network is the business, and this radical a shift, if not deployed correctly, could seriously jeopardize the business.

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The networking industry has certainly gone ga-ga over the topic of software defined networks (SDN). Before SDNs were all the rage, network transformation had already begun with the use of fabrics. The rise of SDNs certainly took the media focus away from fabrics and that caused many vendors to shift their marketing messages as well.

However, one of the vendors that has been fairly consistent with the value of a fabric is data center specialist Brocade, and its strategy seems to be working.

When Lloyd Carney took over as CEO of the company last year, Brocade stopped trying to be all things to all people and focused on the areas where Brocade’s value proposition would resonate most. In fact, in the fall of 2013, I had the chance to meet up with Mr. Carney at the company’s channel event in New Orleans. He told me with no uncertainty that if the company didn’t have a shot of being one of the top three vendors in a market, then it shouldn’t be in that space. During his keynote, he talked at length about fabrics and the value the technology could provide to large data centers and service providers.

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