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Open Networking: The Whale that swallowed SDN

Art Fewell | June 18, 2014
SDN and networking conversations today have become overloaded with hype. The future is no longer just about one approach to SDN but has become much bigger. Welcome to the Open Networking Revolution.

The year is 2011, the Open Networking Foundation has just been formed by the largest cloud and telecom service providers, software giants and academia all of whom united at the inaugural Open Networking Summit under the common theme that the networking industry had fallen behind, its closed model stifled innovation and was not keeping up with the rest of the computer science discipline or the needs of emerging application and business requirements.

As you can imagine, this message was not warmly received by all of the networking incumbents who were squarely implicated. As a result, many responded by indicating that these SDN cloud and software guys and academics didn't really understand networking, and that whatever technologies the incumbents already had were real SDN'. According to early incumbent rhetoric, OpenFlow was essentially a science project driven by idealists who didn't understand the real complexities of networking.

The SDN Laundromat
When OpenFlow first became popular, many framed the SDN debate as real SDN' versus inferior and proprietary technologies. This seemed fair at the time as networking incumbents were positioning technologies that were clearly inferior and using aging development frameworks.

However, due to SDN's rapid rise in popularity, incumbents responded with significant RandD investments into alternative and complimentary SDN technologies, and by 2014 seem to have created a much better technical response to complaints they were simply re-framing existing technologies as SDN. For example, regardless of the positives or negatives of Cisco's SDN approach, there is no doubt that it has grown much more technologically sophisticated than their initial response to SDN in 2011.

Yet, at the 2014 Open Networking Summit, ONS Chair Guru Parulkar maintained his tone toward Cisco, including them in with "incumbents [that] have jumped in and are positioning other stuff they are doing as SDN," and further noting that "If you talk to people that really understand SDN, they will say that the Cisco approach doesn't provide the true value of SDN."

Re-framing the SDN debate
This apparent dichotomy has created a lot of confusion, with many observers feeling that if Cisco's 2011 SDN plan wasn't real SDN' because it was seen as a more antiquated technical approach, then why, as the solution has become more technologically sophisticated has it not become more accepted as a legitimate form of SDN by groups like the Open Networking Foundation.

To get to the center of this issue it is important to focus less on the what' of SDN the underlying technical components, and take a closer look at the why' of SDN.

Taking SDN back to its roots
During Martin Casado's speech at the inaugural Open Networking Summit, he noted that a primary value proposition of OpenFlow/SDN was simply the ability to innovate within the network.'


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