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SDN and network virtualization: A reality check

Jim Metzler | Sept. 10, 2014
The Software Defined Networking movement is still evolving, but profiles of SDN users are becoming more clear and we're getting a bead on some of the common evaluation criteria companies are using to gauge how to go forward. We also have a sense of when companies expect to start the process in earnest.

The Software Defined Networking movement is still evolving, but profiles of SDN users are becoming more clear and we're getting a bead on some of the common evaluation criteria companies are using to gauge how to go forward. We also have a sense of when companies expect to start the process in earnest. 

Complicating the analysis of all of this, however, is the fact that there are a variety of SDN solutions available and a variety of ways to consume those solutions. Some providers, for example,  are focusing on the dynamic movement of virtual workloads and leveraging the server hypervisor and techniques such as encapsulation and tunneling, while others are striving to achieve software control of the network by using the OpenFlow protocol to manipulate the flow tables in switches.

Vendors such as VMware and Nuage Networks are, for example, in the first camp, while NEC is an example of a company pursuing the latter approach, which closely resembles the model provided by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) with its emphasis on the centralization of network control.  HP is an example of a company that is attempting to bridge the gap by integrating its SDN solution with the VMware tools.

Cisco is in a class of its own. The company has a number of solutions that it refers to as SDN and some of these solutions fit into these two SDN approaches, but Cisco is different in that its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) leaves some of the control functionality in the switches and routers and it leverages dedicated hardware.

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Regardless of the variations on the supply side, four distinct types of SDN consumers are emerging. The first type are hyperscale shops. Google for example, built its own SDN switches so it could run an SDN backbone to interconnect its data centers. But obviously there is a huge gap between what Google can do and what everybody else can do.

Network service providers, such as Pertino and AT&T, are another class of SDN consumer. Pertino launched a cloud-based Network as a Service product based on SDN more than a year ago, and in September 2013 AT&T announced its Domain 2.0 initiative, a key component of which is a commitment to implement SDN going forward.  Given the interest that providers such as AT&T have shown in SDN, combined with the fact that services such as Pertino's are already available, it is likely that the first taste of SDN that average IT shops get will be as consumers of services.

Large financial firms such as JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs represent a third class of potential SDN consumer. Some of these firms have been active in driving the agenda of the ONF, and many have conducted trials of SDN and related technologies. In March Matthew Liste, managing director, Core Platform Engineering at Goldman Sachs, speaking at the Open Networking Summit conference in Santa Clara, Calif., said he is optimistic about SDN but wouldn't divulge the firm's specific plans.

 

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