An Extreme Approach to Software Defined Networking

Announcement includes support for OpenFlow controllers, a Quantum API-based OpenStack plug-in, and a knowledge-based community for crowd-sourced support.

This week Extreme Networks joined the list of vendors that have unveil their software defined networking (SDN) strategies. In my opinion, it’s one of the better SDN announcements in that it was both broad and deep, highlighting some of Extreme’s long-standing strengths.

One of the fundamental tenets of an SDN is that it enables programmability of the network. Accomplishing network programmability across its product line was relatively easy for Extreme as its XOS operating system has had a high degree of programmability for years now. I remember talking to Extreme about “programmability” about five years ago, but there was little interest in it then. The company had a few strong proof points but the interest certainly wasn’t near what it is today.

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Specifically, what the company announced was support for multiple OpenFlow controllers, including NEC and BigSwitch. Additionally, Extreme announced a Quantum API-based plug-in for OpenStack. The combination gives developers, cloud providers and others interested in SDN a number of programmability options, including APIs, SDKs as well as a handful of Extreme-designed, purpose-built applications.

The other significant part of the announcement was the unveiling of a new application and knowledge-base community called xKIT, which will allow Extreme developers and administrators to collaborate with one another and share best practices. The creation and fostering of vendor-sponsored communities has been huge over the past year, and for a relatively small network vendor like Extreme, it’s one of the steps to long-term, sustainable growth. Extreme will pre-populate xKit with a number of SDN applications, like its virtual machine lifecycle management application, to try and kick start the interest in Extreme’s SDN play.

This announcement follows a long list of new strategy and product announcements by Extreme since the arrival of CEO Oscar Rodriguez and head of strategy David Ginsburg. Prior to their arrival Extreme had fallen behind in both product and vision but the duo has breathed new life into the company and the turn-around story for Extreme appears well underway.

Of all the things Extreme has announced over the past couple of years, I believe one of the real keys is how well it executes on its community. Network programmability has been a core building block of XOS for years. The company has a large install base of universities where programmability matters, so the challenge for Extreme is taking what it started a few years ago and scaling it through the xKIT community. The announcement this week was strong, but now it’s time to go execute.

On a related note, I’ve been following SDNs for a while now and much of the early discussion involved how SDNs commoditize the network infrastructure. If you look at the way Extreme and other vendors have implemented SDN, it’s the reverse of what most people thought would happen. Instead of having a single controller with multiple vendors, it’s possible to standardize on a network vendor and have multiple controllers. This keeps many of the advanced features and functions in the network and marries that with the programmability of a single or multiple controllers. Based on this, I actually think there’s a greater chance the controller gets commoditized long before the network. This should alleviate any fears network vendors may have in aggressively pushing forward with cloud.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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