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Capital letter 'S,' 'D,' 'N' will never happen

John Dix | Jan. 14, 2014
Steve Mullaney, senior vice president and general manager of VMware's Networking & Security Business Unit, outlines the company's vision of software controlled networks, challenges other Software Defined Networking visions, including Cisco's ACI initiative, and outlines how the company will roll out higher layer network services.

Basically what VMware did on the server side is safely reproduce the x86 environment in software, and now we're doing that on the network side with network virtualization. And once you've done that it's all programmatically controlled through APIs such that you can create logical networks, you can attach VMs, you can apply services, you can do all kinds of wonderful things in software. And then when you're done you hit a button and boom, everything goes back into the resource pool. 

So that to me is software-defined networking with small letters. It has nothing to do with controlling physical switches and using OpenFlow to control those switches. All of this is done, again, with the philosophy of virtualization, which is decouple. That's the key word. You're decoupled from the physical infrastructure. 

The key is not to have to touch the physical infrastructure. Leave it alone and do what you do as an augmentation. Make that physical infrastructure better without touching it. Some of the network people have kind of bastardized what SDN means. They say, "Well, since I'm a physical network company, SDN must therefore mean software control of all of my physical switches." No. That's like a better CLI. It's interesting, but it's not actually what people need. What they need is network virtualization and being decoupled from the physical infrastructure, because the whole point is to not to have to touch it. 

For companies that go the other route and end up with some physical SDN controllers, will those controllers be able to interact with your controllers?
Absolutely. We've talked publicly about things we're doing with HP. HP's SDN controller will control their physical hardware and we'll do some federation with them. And if somebody wanted to control their physical infrastructure — I can't think of any reason why they would want to, but if they did -- we'd say great. Go for it. We are very complementary to that.

You folks are talking about rolling out various upper Layer network services in software. Expand on that a bit. 
Firewall is a perfect example. All of our firewall intelligence is at the edge of the network, either in the vSwitch or in a top-of-rack physical switch. And then the distribution and core, the physical part of the data center network, just looks like an L3 network that forwards packets, and that's it. You rack it once, you wire it once, you never touch it again.

So we build effectively what is a distributed scale-out version of a firewall. There's a little piece of firewalling at every vSwitch. And as you add more compute nodes you add more firewalling capability, and when you move VMs around that firewalling capability moves around with it. 


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