Software defined networking was a hot topic at the recent Interop conference in Las Vegas, where enthusiasm for the emerging technology overpowered any lingering doubts.
Bob Muglia, EVP of Juniper's Software Solutions Division, got a laugh from the audience when he opened his keynote with a movie trailer about the pending arrival of SDN. "SDN is coming," a booming voice said as dramatic images flashed by, "sometime in 2013, maybe 2014 ... or 2015." But then Muglia went on to say that Juniper is actually going to deliver its SDN controller later this year, months ahead of schedule.
Juniper is advocating an SDN overlay approach, where its box will control virtual end points and connections among them will be tunneled across existing infrastructure. SDN will not require a forklift upgrade, Muglia said. Control of physical devices will be achieved by federating controllers with other devices using BGP, and service chaining will allow users to introduce services (say firewalling) anywhere in the various paths.
Muglia predicted SDN is coming this year for a small set of early adopters (see our new special report "Understanding SDN"). In fact, the question of timing came up often at the show, eliciting a range of predictions.
Not surprisingly, backers are bullish. David Hawley, HP's global product line manager responsible for the company's SDN portfolio, said in one session that HP has "lots of proof of concepts going and many customers running in production."
Marc Cohn, chairman of the Open Networking Foundation's Market Education Committee, pointed out that the ONF member ranks swelled to 90 last year and vendors introduced 60 OpenFlow-enabled products and shipped some 30 million OpenFlow capable ports. (The ONF is the group that standardized OpenFlow as the protocol for SDN controllers to command ONF-enabled data handling devices.)
Gregory Bell, senior systems engineer at Ballarat Grammar, a school in Australia, is an early user of HP SDN products and, in a panel discussion with other SDN users, Bell said he has already reached the point where he wouldn't buy any infrastructure that wasn't OpenFlow capable.
But fellow panelist Igor Gashinsky, a distinguished architect at Yahoo, leaned the other direction. While Yahoo has found some limited uses for SDN, he doesn't think the technology is ready for wide adoption, although he suggests that everyone should be conducting tests.
One worrying sign? Jim Metzler, vice president of Ashton Metzler & Associates, who was leading a workshop on SDN, asked the audience how many of their organizations had plans to contend with infrastructure change. As you would guess, the bulk raised their hands. Then he asked how many companies have plans for how the IT organization will change in kind. Only a handful waved.
SDN promises to usher in a lot of infrastructure change, and companies need to start thinking through the organizational implications.