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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.


HP has been a leader in the SDN space for sometime, delivering OpenFlow functionality across more than 50 of the switches in its portfolio, as well as an SDN controller it calls the Virtual Application Networks (VAN) SDN controller. HP has built its partner ecosystem around VAN, as well as an SDN app store that is unique in the network industry.

Like Apple does with apps that are submitted for inclusion in its app store, HP certifies SDN apps that are submitted to its app store so enterprise customers can be confident the apps will work reliably on their HP network infrastructure. What HP has done is build an SDN consumption model that makes adding SDN functionality to the network as simple as could be imagined for IT departments. While this is an HP-specific ecosystem, the model underscores the power of SDN: improve network functionality by adding applications to an extensible network framework.

One example of a third-party that is leveraging HP's SDN ecosystem is Guardicore. Guardicore has developed a security function it describes as an active honeypot. In security, a honeypot is a fake host intended to capture the attention of a probing intruder. The intruder is occupied, thinking it has found a point of vulnerability, when in fact the honeypot neither houses nor provides a gateway to valuable data. The honeypot is a trap. The problem with legacy honeypots is that they wait for intruders to stumble upon them. In the Guardicore/HP active honeypot model, intruders are purposely directed to the honeypot, making the honeypot a much more effective trap.

The way the Guardicore solution works, network traffic is profiled; network mapping behavior is detected by monitoring connections dropped by existing security check points in the network. Rather than allowing the dropped connections to be blocked, Guardicore asks the VAN controller to redirect that traffic to the active honeypot, which then holds the interest of the malware app. As the app continues to probe the honeypot, Guardicore algorithms can infer the malware's behavior and work with VAN to contain the threat and install tighter security policies to further mitigate it.


With Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), Cisco has created a broad SDN vision that will eventually be capable of managing the entire data center. While ACI execution is still early, Cisco is already working with a large number of partners to integrate their applications and services with an ACI-capable network. Cisco has termed this an "open ecosystem," clearly eyeing the industry at large as potential partners. This makes sense, as Cisco has a great deal of competition in the SDN space. A large partner ecosystem is a possible encouragement towards adoption, enticing consumers to spend their network upgrade dollars on ACI-enablement.


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