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Panel discusses SDN's fate as the future of networking

Posted: 27 Apr 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:data center? SDN? networking? cloud computing?

Traditionally, the firmware of network switches and routers remained proprietary, locked and under the control of the companies that manufactured the equipment. As we move to the cloud generation, software-defined networking (SDN) seeks to change this disposition and pushes to make the firmware of switches remotely accessible and modifiable by third-party software clients using open protocols such as OpenFlow.

But is SDN really the future of networking? Networks are facing problems with latency, huge amounts of traffic and tons of applications in a number of networking protocols and physical layers. Apart from that, data centers need speed, but to achieve this will cost a lot of money.

A panel at NetEvents' APAC Press Analyst Summit held Hong Kong talked about the advantages of OpenFlow to answer the issues encountered by networks as they cope with the growing traffic in data centers.

The panel proposed a technology of centralized, managed controller with open flow data plane switches that has a potential to automate configurations and improve network efficiency.

SDN panel

Panel members at NetEvents' APAC Press Analyst Summit discussing the advantages of SDN. (L-R) Atsushi Iwata, Bruce Bateman and Mark Pearson.

But will this be possible? Every year, $6 billion worth of equipment is sold into the data center networking market. And according to Gartner Inc., in 2010 the top three equipment vendors had 82 percent market share of the ports shipments. In the service provider market, $13 billion worth of equipment is sold yearly, with the top four vendors getting 85 percent of the market. As NetEvents' editorial director Manek Dubash put it, "That's a lot of control in one place. It's a lot of inertia in the market." He further added that, effectively, what these sorts of numbers mean is that you don't have a lot of turnover of networking equipment, either in the data center, or, in the service provider market.

From the SDN point of view, as the network operator system transitions, it will move to become centralized and then finally, operators will get the features moving off the custom hardware and all the hardware will become "dumb boxes."

Bruce Bateman, networking evangelist APJ of Dell Force10, sees the transition as a way to adapt to the changing community. "The community is changing; the customers are asking for more openness, they are asking for more open standards, they are asking for the ability to interact with other products."

Bateman also believes that the issue is not with SDN or which controls the network plane, but it has to do with how customers can control their storage and servers. "It's not so much a land grab as it is a request from the community to be able to take existing equipment, look at best of breed products and integrating them."

Migrating to open flow
Bateman noted that migration to open flow will be slow. "We will start to see slow changes; we will start to see people doing testing and originally a lot of the SDN open flow was for academics to do testing of networks."

"The issue will come not so much from a technology point of view, but from a financial point of view. Data center owners will want to reduce their OPEX and by spending a little bit on CAPEX, you can reduce your OPEX," he added.

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