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Understanding SDN vendor ecosystems

Ethan Banks | Sept. 10, 2014
Followers of Software Defined Networking (SDN) might recognize a sort of market maturation. We don't mean maturity of the product sets, or even how SDN is technically achieved. Those elements are still coming along. We mean vendor SDN strategies are settling in.

Followers of Software Defined Networking (SDN) might recognize a sort of market maturation. We don't mean maturity of the product sets, or even how SDN is technically achieved. Those elements are still coming along. We mean vendor SDN strategies are settling in.

Cisco is firmly committed to its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) strategy, aggressively marketing the new technology as it gets ready for ACI's general availability. VMware's NSX SDN approach has the distinction of running in production environments. And even startups like Big Switch Networks and Plexxi continue to find matches for their technology with customer needs.

That said, the most interesting part of SDN isn't SDN itself; these days, what's grabbing attention is the rich functionality SDN is enabling.  Network engineers have grabbed hold of the fact that automation of network provisioning is a critical function enabled by SDN.

Another function SDN enables is dynamic reaction to changing network conditions. An interesting example of this is the rise of the software defined WAN, in which a major value proposition is the ability to route traffic across a mix of Internet, private WAN circuits, or LTE dynamically, depending on the quality of the transport. Software defined WAN solutions are able to react to changing network conditions in real-time with no manual intervention on the part of network operators.

Yet another key function of SDN, and the function we'll focus on for the rest of this article, is the ability for applications to interact with the network. The key here is the development of APIs that provide a way for applications that traverse a network to communicate their needs to that network. We'll look at some examples of this in a bit.

Software defined networking is important not because it's clever, difficult for vendors to create, or academically interesting. Rather, SDN is an enabling technology. Much like a foundation enables a building to be erected, SDN is a foundation that enables new network functionality. A key to understanding why an organization should invest in an SDN-capable network is because of what will be possible as more and more applications are developed that interact with the network.

A network becomes a living thing when powered by applications. SDN is the catalyst allowing applications and networks to react to each other. Network vendors are well aware of this and have built ecosystems around their SDN platforms. By "ecosystems," we mean vendors have formed strategic partnerships with third-party vendors to enable applications and other network devices to take part in their SDN system. Let's take a look at some of the SDN ecosystems, note the partnerships, and highlight some key functionality brought about as a result.

 

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