The Verdict: Either OpenFlow Matters a Lot, or Not at All

Will Network Virtualization be the Killer App for OpenFlow?

Unsurprisingly, the opinions on OpenFlow from the vendors at Interop were all over the map. However, since I did ask a bunch of people at the show about OpenFlow, I figure it's worth a post to summarize some of the more interesting responses. For those of you who hang out in the blog space to discuss Cisco certs, note that OpenFlow will not impact the Cisco cert paths for several years, if ever. But it never hurts to keep an eye on where we might be headed.

Pro OpenFlow

Pronto Systems told me that they built their Data Center switch product line to support OpenFlow specifically. As a switching startup, they are essentially betting the farm that OpenFlow will be a hit. Personally, I'd view Pronto as a case where a relatively new company hopes to leverage a new disruptive technology to gain sales and share.

NEC America also appears poised to take advantage of OpenFlow if it's a big hit. I asked about their market share in the switch market, and the short answer was 0% in the USA. NEC, their parent company, is a very large (around 38 billion US in annual revenue) technology company. I won't repeat the details about their switches that are in the other related post, but I did ask them about how important OpenFlow was to them. Collecting many answers together, NEC America expects (or at lest hopes) that OpenFlow, or at least the features enabled by their use of OpenFlow, fundamentally changes the switch market.

Several companies at the show were focused on writing controller software. So, i have to believe that they at least hope OpenFlow is big. For instance, one such company, Big Switch Networks, could be used with the switches from Pronto Systems (above). And straight from their home page is a great line whose meaning was repeated by many of the proponents of OpenFlow:

"Network Virtualization will be the killer app for OpenFlow."

Finally, the list of sponsors for the OpenFlow lab was long. There was a fair amount of hype at the show about OpenFlow, and it got a lot of attention.

Con OpenFlow

Frankly, there were plenty of naysayers as well.

Unsurprisingly, a couple of well-established vendors, including Juniper, said that they expected to support OpenFlow, but it seemed to be a very minor consideration. Cisco didn't have an opinion on it amongst the 3-4 people I asked at their booth.

In one of the conference sessions on switching that was not about OpenFlow at all, the moderator off-handedly asked a panel what was being overhyped at the show. The immediate answer from one of the panelists (from Arista Networks) was "OpenFlow". Ironically, Arista switches can already work with OpenFlow controllers (according to someone at their booth), due to the architecture of their switch OS.

Another (unnamed) vendor that supports OpenFlow, and has been involved in OpenFlow for several years, told me that they believed OpenFlow was going nowhere fast.

Public Relations or Real?

Finally, several different people from vendors, to analysts, and others, told me that it seemed like 2-3 months ago OpenFlow started getting a lot more attention. Was that the result of a PR campaign? Or just the right point in OpenFlow's maturity to be of more interest to the general public?

Sitting here today, I can't tell. I guess we'll have to wait and see if the hype was only hype, or if there is enough substance to make OpenFlow an established part of f the networking world.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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