Why SDN will accelerate COTS adoption in the networking industry

SDN is a game changer for adoption of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology in the network industry.

COTS is shorthand for industry standard servers (e.g., Intel), merchant semiconductors (e.g., Broadcom and Cavium) and standard operating systems (e.g., Linux).

The network industry has been living in a world of purpose-built systems for 30-plus years. It is standard practice for Ericsson, Cisco, F5 or Juniper to design their own ASIC chips, develop proprietary operating systems (e.g., Cisco IOS), and integrate it all into highly optimized systems (e.g., base stations, routers and Ethernet switches).

ANNOUNCEMENT: OpenFlow startup takes aim at Cisco, VMware

SDN changes the game by moving the focus to software and the application ecosystem. SDN provides for separation of the control and data plane -- that is, the intelligence of the switch or router is split from the packet forwarding engine. It is this separation that provides plenty of opportunities for creative engineering of new architectures to deliver network functionality.

Network vendors are increasingly finding their value-add is coming from highly specialized software. SDN offers the prospect of a broad ecosystem of ISVs, startups and universities to offer specialized applications that leverage SDN platforms.

The migration to a software-led network and potential changes to how we build network equipment will lead the industry toward COTS. The benefits of COTS include:

• Faster design cycles server virtualization

• Less expensive hardware 

• Lower maintenance costs 

• Benefits of

Traditional designs of switches, routers, firewalls and server load balancers using custom silicon will continue to be necessary to deliver ultra-high performance throughput, but networks of the future will see hybrid designs of specialized hardware combined with more COTS elements. These COTS platforms will include software on servers as well as network equipment utilizing x86 and other merchant silicon designs.

Lee Doyle is principal analyst at Doyle Research. Doyle Research provides targeted analysis on the Evolution of Intelligent Networks: SDN, OPEX and COTS. Lee Doyle has over 28 years experience analyzing the IT, network and telecom markets. For more information please see doyle-research.com and email me at ldoyle@doyle-research.com.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.