NEC this week is showing off its implementation of OpenFlow technology on switches and controllers that can be used to experiment with new protocols and applications across production networks. While the focus this week has been on its partners in education and research, it won't be long before NEC is talking in detail about how OpenFlow can benefit other enterprise networks, too.
OpenFlow, created at Stanford University as part of its Clean Slate Internet Design effort and shepherded by the OpenFlow Consortium, separates the control of packet forwarding from other router or switch controls to allow for more flexibility in network environments based on standard commercial switches and routers. We've written about the technology, including in our story at the start of this year on what the Internet might look like in the year 2020 and in interviews with Stanford's Nick McKeown.
Limited release versions of NEC's ProgrammableFlow multilayer switches were demonstrated by organizations including the University of Illinois and the Georgia Institute of Technology at this week's 9th GENI Engineering Conference (GEC9) in Washington, DC. (GENI is a big virtual laboratory network that Raytheon BBN is leading and that has demonstrated advances in everything from virtualization to heterogeneous network connectivity.) There were around a couple dozen OpenFlow demos at GENI -- including one on edge network management programmability -- making the technology a major underpinning of the event.
The NEC demos were a precursor to what the company has planned for other enterprise customers, says Donald Clark, general manager of business development for NEC America, who spoke with me on his way back from GEC9. He says OpenFlow discussions have advanced greatly over the past year, moving beyond how to build OpenFlow networks to focusing on applications that OpenFlow networks would support.
"This is a major product initiative for us," Clark says. "Our first target is the data center and we'll really focus on virtualizing the network, separating it from the physical topology."
It should be interesting to see how OpenFlow advances and whether it takes hold outside of university and research company networks and in the product lines of vendors like Cisco and Juniper Networks. Just last week we made mention of OpenFlow in a story about a mysterious new switch company called Pica8, which supports the technology. And one of the earlier companies to get on board has been Citrix, which recently discussed a concept called Integrated Virtual Switching that builds on OpenFlow.
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