Posts Tagged ‘Software-Defined Networking’

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know there’s no single technology trend that has more hype and mania around it than “software defined networks.” It’s this era’s “2.0,” or the technology equivalent of Andrew Luck. Lots of hype, plenty of potential, but has yet to produce anything. To date, almost every leading vendor has outlined an SDN strategy, but the one missing vendor has been the No. 2 market share leader, HP. After interviews with a number of HP customers and channel partners it appears HP is ready to unveil its SDN strategy.

From a vision perspective, there’s really nothing unique about what HP is doing – they’re focused on IT agility through the decoupling of control and data plane. HP has extended the value proposition of this to applications through a number of open APIs similar to what Avaya, Brocade and Cisco are doing. What’s not clear to me is who the application partners will be at time of launch, if any, but its support of applications is consistent with the rest of the industry.

If there’s one thing the tech industry does, it’s over use terms to the point that they become meaningless. Remember the “everything 2.0” wave? The craze today is around the term “software;” everything is becoming software defined or software enabled or software this that and the other thing.

Over the last year or so I’ve seen a rise in the number of vendors claiming to have “software”-based versions of products that can compete with their hardware-based counterparts. Silver Peak with WAN Optimization, Vidyo in video conferencing, and Vyatta routers come to mind as some recent examples.

I do think there is room in the market for both software and hardware versions of these particular items, but IT buyers should understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of each.

I attended Brocade’s annual “Tech Day” at its headquarters in San Jose on yesterday. This event is meant for Brocade to share its vision of where the industry is going and what product plans it has to support the vision. I’ve been to a few tech days now, and this was one of the better ones in recent history. Here are the main highlights.

The company defined its vision of what the terms Ethernet Fabric and Software Defined Networks mean, and then explained the interplay between the two. In Brocade’s terms, an Ethernet Fabric is defined by:

  • A network that is optimized for server virtualization and cloud architectures
  • An efficient network that has higher throughput and lower latency
  • The ability to scale out as needed to improve the flexibility and agility of the network
  • Automation to simplify network operations

Amid all the noise of last week’s VMworld event, data center specialist Brocade augmented its vision for software defined networks (SDN) by announcing support for VXLAN to its ADX application delivery controllers (ADCs). To date, all of the VXLAN and SDN announcements have been focused on traffic on a single network within a data center. The ADX enhancement is meant to interconnect traffic between networks. This could be a virtual-to-virtual network or virtual-to-physical network.

As far as I know, Brocade is the first vendor to address moving traffic to another network that is distinct from a particular VXLAN-based overlay network. From what I understand, Brocade chose to add this functionality to its line of ADCs versus Ethernet switches because the ADX has some unique features that switches lack, such as stateful failovers, load balancing and the ability to maintain high availability. Bringing the ADC into the mix gives Brocade a unique plan in SDNs that can extend what it does at layer 2-3 up the stack at layers 4-7.

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.

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.

The concept of “software defined networks” (SDNs) has become all the rage in networking over the past year or so. Now, I do believe that the “mouthshare” for SDNs far exceeds the amount of money being spent on it, but it’s clear, from the inquiries I get from network managers trying to understand what SDNs are and if they’re applicable for their organizations, that SDNs will be here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The majority of the SDN push has been by startups, such as Arista, Nicera and Big Switch or lesser-known network vendors like NEC, but this week, the high-performance network specialist Brocade unveiled its SDN strategy, making it the first mainstream vendor to give product-level details of its SDN plans. Back in June of 2010, Brocade was the first traditional network vendor to publicly announce support for OpenFlow and SDN, so its product announcements show consistency with this strategy.

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