From underlay to overlay, all the pieces of the SDN puzzle look to be coming together. That's the key takeaway of this year's Open Networking Summit, held earlier this week in Santa Clara, CA. From the conference's beginnings in 2011, when 23 exhibitors gathered for an audience of just over 400 attendees, ONS has grown steadily. Earlier this week, 66 exhibitors displayed their technologies for approximately 1,600 attendees. The range of solutions and breadth of technical talks demonstrated the continued progress being made in the software defined networking space.
ONS 2014 exhibitors demonstrate diverse SDN solutions
On the solutions side, exhibitors ranged from startups Corsa and Catbird to established names like HP, Cisco, IBM, and Microsoft. Solutions were just as diverse. In addition to the switches, controllers, and platforms integral to an SDN deployment, there were security, diagnostics, virtualization, acceleration, automation, and orchestration tools on display. And although much of the SDN talk continued to revolve around carrier and service provider networks, vendors are making headway into the enterprise, with one even touting SDN for SMBs.
The diversity of approaches on the show floor is a good sign. Software defined networking is in large part about flexibility and choice, and choice is also key to a healthy market ecosystem. Mergers, acquisitions, and failed attempts will no doubt narrow and reshape the software defined networking landscape in years to come, but the growing range of options will provide a solid foundation for future problem-solving and development.
Keynotes and vendor conversations: Cisco under fire, as usual
The scene in the Santa Clara Convention Center ballrooms and theaters was just as positive. Talks ranged from engineering essentials and practical deployment experiences to high-level discussion around the research and development happening in the space, including an update on OpenDaylight Helium.
During the keynotes, ONS Chairman Guru Parulkar pushed his vision of SDN as a rare disruptive technology. OpenFlow switches don't yet have all of the features of legacy appliances, he admitted during Tuesday's SDN as a Disruptive Innovation keynote, but the building blocks of software defined networking are maturing, with carriers like AT&T planning implementations.
Despite Cisco's presence on the expo floor and in the SDN Deployment Experiences panel on Wednesday, ONS sentiment seemed resistant to the vendor's approach. During the SDN as a Disruptive Innovation talk, Parulkar described the typical incumbent approach to SDN as beginning with a closed, proprietary box and the idea that "SDN is happening, so I have to play the SDN game as well." What happens, he said, is that the unnamed incumbents add some OpenFlow to the box and the ability to program it remotely.
"I want to keep everything as-is, but I can just add OpenFlow. Not only that, but I will add a proprietary interface as well…and build some provisioning and orchestration applications on the top," Parulkar said, describing his perception of the incumbent approach.
Parulkar also called out Cisco directly in an interview with Enterprise Networking Planet's Sean Michael Kerner. At a different keynote, he and other speakers insisted that SDN's success hinges on breaking with closed, proprietary legacy networking infrastructure (no surprise for an organization with the word "open" right in the name). And Brocade principal architect Curt Beckmann described Cisco's SDN approach as "SDN-washing" not in keeping with the true spirit of software defined networking.
All that could simply be natural resentment against a powerful incumbent, of course. Cisco isn't going anywhere, at least for the foreseeable future. The networking giant's footprint is simply too large and too deeply embedded in global enterprise. Even if Cisco's approach to software defined networking fails to fit the academic definition of the concept, it's up to the market to decide whether that matters.
In any case, Cisco wasn't the only vendor criticized. While answering a question about vendor missteps in the software defined networking space, Microsoft's Rajeev Nagar mentioned a large competitor that, to him, behaves as if its network virtualization technology can solve all the world's problems. Nagar named no names, but VMware's Martin Casado happened to give a talk on the problems network virtualization can solve not long before I met with Nagar.
Finally, ONS 2014 made it clear that SDN is a global trend. Representatives from vendors all over the world—in particular the Asia Pacific region—attended. Of particular interest was switch vendor NoviFlow's announcement that they have signed a distribution agreement with South Korean SDN solutions vendor NAIM Networks. Given South Korea's famously fast Internet speeds, what South Korean carriers do with software defined networking could be instructive.
Over the course of four days, ONS 2014 made the case for software defined networking as a disruptive, transformative technology. How well will the rosy perspective from inside the SDN bubble match up with reality in the months and years to come? Watch this space to find out.
Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Jude Chao is managing editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.