Although software-defined networks (SDNs) already are a big topic, talk about the concept is bound to grow as networking gets more geographically diverse and carries a wider variety of content.
SDNs separate the data from the equipment that controls it. It makes it easier to change the way in which that data is handled by making switches, routers and other devices. They become less proprietary to their manufacturers and more easily programmed. In short, the goal is to make big and complex networks manageable from one spot and by use of a single interface. Jim Duffy had a good explanation at Network World:
SDNs are said to be a way to abstract the physical network from the logic with which to operate it, and to enable easier modification or feature extension. OpenFlow is supported by many in the industry as an API and protocol to enable SDNs.
OpenFlow is a major SDN initiative. Last year - ironically, a year ago to the day - ITBE posted an interviewed I conducted with Nick McKeown, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Stanford University and a board member of the Open Networking Foundation. Here is his description of the rationale for the OpenFlow project:
Just like any network, there are switches, routers, Wi-Fi access points and things like that that all interoperate with each other. There is no common way to control and manage them. They are all different. This makes it difficult to customize the network. If you are building a data center, for example, you may want improved functionality. In the past, data center operators would have to build their own switches and write their own software. What a software-defined network does is make that easier.
This week, Cisco announced the Insieme project, which had been mentioned last month in The New York Times. It is a "spin-in" project. Cisco will finance the project for $100 million and allow executives to move to the new entity. The networking giant will have the right to buy Insieme for as much as $750 million down the road.
The Open Networking Summit is being held this week in Santa Clara, Calif. In the key note, Computerworld reports that Google Fellow and Senior Vice President for Operations Urs Holzle described the company's work with OpenFlow. There are no startling revelations in the story. It clearly points out, however, how fundamental OpenFlow is to Google and the importance that the company is putting on it.
The demands on networks are growing at an exponential clip. People generally think of bigger pipes as the answer. Increased capacity of course is important. What also is key is more efficient operations. SDNs - which allow centralized reconfiguration of all network elements, even in mixed vendor environments - have been identified by Cisco, Google and other heavy hitters as the way to confront this complex and potentially difficult future.