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Networking’s Getting a Little Abstract

Industry embraces the flexibility and agility of SDN

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Welcome to the disaggregation of the big networking box!

According to a report by Bloomberg, “Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. are telling the world’s largest networking-gear maker that they won’t keep paying for expensive equipment, when software can squeeze out more performance and make the machines more versatile.”

Those enterprises are undoubtedly coming to grips with the limitations of the hierarchical network infrastructure. Bandwidth-intensive applications and the ever-increasing demand for speed, scalability, and resilience are too much for traditional switching architectures to handle.

Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers recently conceded the company is shifting its focus to "becoming solutions and outcomes-based, rather than just trying to sell routers and switches." Cisco seems to be running to hop on a train that is already leaving the station and it’s headed for SDN Station – the destination for the network of tomorrow.

SDN provides a variety of methods for centralizing and orchestrating policy and service definition for the network. According to Brocade, SDN offers a way to achieve the network agility required by increasingly virtualized and dynamic applications. SDN will disaggregate traditional, vertically integrated networking stacks to improve network service velocity and customize network operations for specialized environments. This represents a radical shift from dedicated hardware appliances to virtual deployment in software.

That radical shift is required to meet the challenges and reap the possibilities of what market research firm IDC calls the 3rd Platform (the first being mainframe, the second client/server). As CIO columnist Bernard Golden puts it, the 3rd Platform is “the next-generation IT software foundation” encompassing cloud computing, mobile, big data and social technologies.

Most intriguing, says Golden, “is IDC's prediction that every industry on our economy will see one-third of its top 20 companies seriously disrupted by new entrants and reinvented incumbents who deliver new offerings empowered by the third platform.”

IDC Chief Analyst Frank Gens declares that “The 3rd Platform will deliver the next generation of competitive advantage apps and services that will significantly disrupt market leaders in virtually every industry.” The competitive positioning is fierce and, he says, resulted in billion-dollar bets placed by industry players in 2013.

Given the pace of change, static network architectures won’t do the trick. Proprietary networking solutions represent big box canyons that will trap organizations and prevent them from evolving to the new software-defined reality. Open and standards-based technologies and solutions are the key to getting there, not proprietary big boxes. Can Cisco make that transition?

“In any industry, the dominant player never leads the transition," Brocade CEO Lloyd Carney recently told a gathering of federal executives. "The last person you should expect to take you to the next level of networking is the current dominant player. It has never happened in the history of technology – and it's not happening now."

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