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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.


There are other SDN vendor ecosystems. For instance, VMware has a list of strategic partners for its NSX platform, an SDN solution that has been shipping since late 2013. One NSX ecosystem partner is Palo Alto Networks, whose virtual firewall appliance can be inserted into the data stream of a virtual NIC by NSX, allowing PAN's application layer firewall to secure virtual hosts.

Big Switch Networks is another.  This SDN startup has an interesting partner ecosystem, including a long-standing relationship with F5 Networks. One of Big Switch's main applications is its "Big Virtual Switch" which presents an OpenFlow-capable network infrastructure as one logical switch that can be managed centrally.

Users of F5's application delivery controller are aware that the platform functions not only as a simple load-balancer, but also as an application level service delivery platform.

An F5 Local Traffic Manager (LTM) is able to deliver a rich set of data manipulations and application delivery templates. Integration between Big Virtual Switch and F5 LTM enables the Big Virtual Switch to steer traffic to the LTM, tracking all of the IP addresses and MAC addresses of the LTM infrastructure, as well as informing the LTM of the network topology. The result is automation of network infrastructure configuration inside of the Big Virtual Switch to support an F5-based application deployment.

In the open source community, the OpenDaylight (ODL) project continues to attract new members who wish to leverage the ODL controller for their applications. As ODL grows in scope and matures in usability, it could become the de-facto standard for application integration in the SDN world. The ODL membership list is one to watch.

What's a consumer to do?

Consumers shopping for an SDN solution need to keep an eye on vendor ecosystems as they continue to develop. Since SDN is a means to an end, but not the end in itself, the partnerships become quite significant. What, exactly, can be achieved with the SDN capabilities of a given network? The answer should map to an organization's specific needs. Not every vendor will have an SDN solution that makes sense for every organization; SDN is decidedly not one-size fits all. Therefore, organizations evaluating SDN should carefully investigate vendor ecosystems to understand how they fit into their other network service alignments. It's possible that a customer's existing relationship with a third-party vendor will direct them towards one vendor's SDN solution or another.


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