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It’s Getting Hot in Here: Titans Clash over SDN Standards

Cloud providers’ hyperscale operations driving network architecture advances

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It’s going to get hot at the IEEE Hot Interconnects conference in late August. That’s when, according to EE Times, Facebook and Google will face off with “similar and competing” visions of software-defined networking.

As Network World’s Jim Metzler reported last year, “Software-defined networking (SDN) is the hottest thing going today, but there is considerable confusion surrounding everything from the definition of the term to the different architectures and technologies suppliers are putting forward.”

SDN, according to Brocade’s definition “is an emerging concept that proposes to disaggregate traditional, vertically integrated networking stacks to improve network service velocity and customize network operations for specialized environments.”

Well said, but although the technology is maturing and real world use cases are real, as NetworkWorld Editor-in-chief John Dix wryly observed recently, “for most shops it is still a question of figuring out how we get there from here.” 

Facebook and Google are intent on leading the way, (whether separately or together remains to be seen) and they have a lot of clout. They are representative of the hyperscale data centers that have an inordinate impact on industry decisions and shaping the character of the data center of tomorrow.

“Facebook has taken networking into its own hands, building a switch to link servers inside its data centers, and wants to make the platform available to others,” according to the IDG News Service.  Code-named "Wedge" the switch extends the principles of The Open Computer Project (OCP) and aims “to provide a new level of visibility, automation, and control in the operation of the network.”

Google has developed an SDN architecture for a data center WAN interconnect, known as B4, that ties together its data centers globally.  It is allied in the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), whose “signature accomplishment to date is introducing the OpenFlow Standard, which enables remote programming of the forwarding plane.”

OpenFlow seems like it’s a bit further along commercially with probably more industry support than what seems like a very Facebook-centric approach at OCP. But that’s not the point here; rather all data center owners/operators should be thrilled to see these two giants pushing the pedal to the mettle.  Google, Facebook, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure all have a vested stake in SDN as a foundational element of the data centers of tomorrow.

Market research firm Infonetics Research recently reported that in a recent survey it conducted “a majority of survey respondents are currently conducting data center SDN lab trials or will do so this year; 45% are planning to have SDN in live production in the data center in 2015, growing to 87% in 2016.”

Now the typical enterprise data center may not be as cloud-driven as the Googles and Facebooks of the world, but if you’re betting your future on SDN, you’ve got to be happy they are investing time, money and effort into getting there.

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