Software defined networking (SDN) still makes up only a fraction of the overall enterprise networking market, but it is fair to say that it represents one of the most vibrant areas of development to have come along in quite a while.
And while it is easy to say that top providers like Cisco and Juniper have a leg up on SDN and are poised to continue their dominance in the virtual network arena, that still hasn’t prevented a number of start-ups from entering the market with some intriguing ideas.
As is common with new technologies (and even some that are not so new), deployment and integration pose major challenges. This holds doubly true for networking, considering its penchant for touching every aspect of the data environment. A company called Inocybe Technologies hopes to take the edge off SDN deployment with the Inocybe Virtualization Platform (IVP), designed to serve as a fully unified SDN solution that can be deployed across private or public clouds in seconds. The platform features a pre-integrated application library for various server and network configurations, as well as integrated cloud and network controllers and automated device discovery that offer end-to-end views of network elements. The system also features a distributed, inter-cloud management stack to enable public/private cloud federation and single-interface control.
Part of the appeal of software-defined architecture, of course, is the ability to self-provision. Theoretically, users will be able to cobble together network and other resources to establish their own functioning data environments. That's the goal behind PLUMgrid’s new SDN platform, based on the company’s IO Visor. As explained to eWeek’s Chris Preimesberger, the system works by establishing “virtual domains” of on-demand, programmable networks that allow end-users to deploy working multitenant networks in a matter of hours. The system also features a centralized control mechanism for platform and function management, as well as the Virtual Domain logical container for preserving network definitions. PLUMgrid also provides a Network Functions library of available configuration and topography settings and SDK support for customized applications. Best of all, the system resides on an overlay network: no rip-and-replacement required for existing network infrastructure.
This isn’t to say that established vendors aren’t keenly aware of the need to simplify SDN deployments as much as possible. Cisco, for example, recently unveiled a new application-centric SDN through its Insieme Networks subsidiary, with the idea that an integrated hardware/software approach is the best way to simplify network provisioning across disparate architectures. The goal is to create a common policy framework capable of maintaining a virtualization model across any network, which the company hopes to accomplish using leading SDN platforms like Cisco ONE and the OpenDaylight project. The company is still keeping many of the details under wraps, but ultimately it could lead to a situation in which applications, rather than people, take the lead in provisioning their own network infrastructure.
At the same time, the open source community is working diligently to overcome lingering incompatibilities between their member platforms. The Open Networking Foundation recently held its third PlugFest, designed to foster conformity within the OpenFlow protocol. The event at the University of Indiana’s InCENTRE drew more than 20 companies to put both hardware and software products through the wringer. Much of the activity surrounded the newest version of the protocol, OF 1.3, which deals with higher-order network complexities and optimization issues.
Hardly a network engineer worth his salt these days hasn’t heard the words “easily deployable” attached to any number of systems and solutions over the years. Despite the rosy rhetoric from the SDN community, however, an infrastructure alteration of this magnitude is not likely to be a walk in the park.
No doubt, many SDN platforms will deploy in hours, or even minutes, but most likely only after a significant amount of prep work is completed to ensure pathways, protocols, system configurations and other elements are in order.
Ultimately, SDN will make life for the network administrator easier, but it will require a little leg work to get there.