One of the most important trends on the networking front is the emergence of software-defined networks (SDNs). It is an area that is getting warm. Network Computing reports on an IDC study that predicts that SDN revenue will grow from $200 million next year to $2 billion by 2016.
InformationWeek offers a good Q&A on SDNs. The details are, of course, monstrously complex. The overall concept is pretty accessible, however: By giving more intelligence to the switches, routers and other gadgets in a network - and making them more open to multiple vendors - networks can run far more efficiently, flexibly and from "one pane of glass." Here is how Gary Hilson at Network Computing explains the concept:
SDN separates network data traffic processing from the logic and rules controlling the flow, inspection and modification of that data. Traditionally, network management software has been vendor-specific for hardware such as switches and routers, but now vendors are responding to enterprises that require more control. Products are coming to market from companies in three categories: traditional network vendors, such as Cisco; large IT vendors, such as IBM, Dell and HP; and startups, such as Big Switch and Arista.
Cisco's OpenFlow initiative is one of the main approaches to SDNs. This eWeek story - a look ahead to Cisco's users' conference in San Diego next month - suggests that the company is being circumspect in the information it releases. The last third of the article is particularly illuminating and hints that there is some jockeying going on.
Clearly, an SDN initiative is in much better position if Cisco is on board. The Open Networking Foundation an industry consortium, is working on an approach called OpenFlow. The story notes that Cisco hasn't committed to OpenFlow - but certainly has committed to the overall concept by establishing a "spin-in" called Insieme. Such a company is bankrolled and staffed - at least at the upper levels - by a parent. That parent has a right to purchase it at some point in the future.
There is activity on the SDN front. The concept got a boost last week with the announcement that Brocade will support the protocol in its MLX routers. In its report on the news InternetNews said that the vendor has developed an approach that will enable OpenFlow to be integrated gradually and operate alongside traditionally managed networks.
SDNs are flying under the radar because they can be a bit dull to talk about. IT departments and service providers should watch their evolution, however. Smart and more flexible networks will lead to faster operations and more efficient use of resources.