UPDATED 10:47 EST / MARCH 18 2014

How the cloud is driving software-defined networking in the enterprise | #ONS2014

humanize software hold technologyLast month’s Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara provided a unique glimpse into the current state of software-defined networking (SDN), a concept born in the academia and successfully put to the test by the world’s biggest Internet companies. In their live opening segment on theCUBE, SiliconANGLE founder John Furrier and Wikibon’s Stu Miniman took a deep dive under the hood to unpack what the technology means for the enterprise.

The need for programmable networks that can be provisioned at the push of a button emerged in the wake of the proliferation of cloud applications and personal devices, two mega-trends that have come together to drive a fundamental shift in the relationship between IT and business strategy. No segment is feeling the impact more than the telecommunications industry, which is one of the core markets for SDN solutions, according to Miniman. Practically all of the early adopters are large technology-driven organizations with billions of dollars to spend on infrastructure, he expands, prime targets for emerging players seeking to gain ground against the incumbent vendors that have dominated the corporate network for the last decade. The competition is only heating up as the technology slowly but surely moves downstream into the traditional enterprise.

“You’re hearing from the crowd that these new guys, like Big Switch for instance, are groping for a market position. They have some technology, but the question is how will the wind shift? Will there be some beachhead for these guys to land on?” Furrier remarks. Whether this new wave of startups will be able to dethrone Cisco and Juniper will be determined by their ability to meet the security requirements of customers and enable value-added applications on the network, he says.

Likewise, sustaining the open source nature of SDN is critical to drive the vision forward and deliver on the potential for operational efficiencies. But just as is the case in the ecosystem, nothing is etched in stone. “The big question is, is it really going to be an open marketplace, or is someone going to control that interface?” Miniman muses. He points at the OpenDaylight Project as a testimonial of the challenges in standardizing software-defined networking. “The northbound and southbound APIs still need to be sorted out because otherwise, somebody could turn networking into an API and control that hardware, and that wouldn’t move us forward.”

Establishing open standards is an urgent priority for the industry, so much so that even sleeping giant Cisco has entered the fray. As Miniman notes, “Cisco isn’t the first company when I look at open source, but they do have a lot of people involved in it.” The vendor is an active contributor to a number of open source projects, including OpenDaylight and OpenStack.

“Cisco is always tagged with ‘well, they just kinda do their own thing and maybe they’re proprietary’, but I’ve always found that Cisco usually moves technologies forward, and they work closely with the standards community,” he observes. The company is investing heavily in SDN as part of a push to regain solid footing in the data center, where the service catalog is being extended into the networking layer as fast evolving user expectations put increased pressure on CIOs to make their IT organizations more agile.

“The networking [industry] is getting their act together to innovate for dynamic provisioning, push-button provisioning, with the users now as developers,” Furrier highlights in a follow-up discussion with Miniman at the conclusion of the Open Networking Summit. “DevOps is on a collision course with networking, you’re seeing virtualization open up a range of creativity.”

SDN presents an opportunity to cut costs and speed up information delivery, but Miniman highlights that the bottom line benefits are still overshadowed by reliability, which remains the top factor in data center network buying decisions. It’s up to the ecosystem as a whole to address everyday challenges while keeping the innovation momentum going.

photo: prenetic via photopin cc

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