The excitement around software-defined networking (SDN) is palpable among service providers and those involved in the network TAP space. They aren’t exactly sure yet how they will use it, and there are not a lot of SDN products on the market, but interest is high.
“The networking industry is riding up the hockey stick curve of hype based on the hopes of new software-defined network,” noted Michael Howard, co-founder and principal analyst for carrier networks at Infonetics (News - Alert) Research. Infonetics just released the results of a survey among service providers about SDN.
SDN allows networking hardware to be controlled by third-party software, most commonly using the OpenFlow protocol, thus extending what can be done with networking hardware the way that the Apple’s (News - Alert) apps store extended the usefulness of the iPhone beyond what the company had originally programmed into the phone.
Roughly 80 percent of global telecommunications service providers said they are including OpenFlow in their purchase considerations, according to findings. This means companies are at least looking at SDN before making infrastructure decisions, Howard recently told TechTarget.
“Operators are smitten by SDNs," he said in the TechTarget piece. "I've talked to Verizon (News - Alert) and AT&T; they're actually buying this stuff. Not a lot. It's in their labs. They're trying it out to see what works and what doesn't.”
The excitement centers around whether operators can use SDN to have applications talk with the network and allow it to respond to the applications, according to Howard. He said service providers believe they can monetize their networks with such technology.
There’s also the promise that SDN might solve operational problems both in service provider networks and data centers. Howard noted that SDN could answer the question of how to move virtual machines around the data center, for instance.
VMware confirmed that promise and drew attention to SDN when it spent $1.26 billion last month for Nicira Networks, a company that specializes in network virtualization and SDN but only recently emerged from stealth mode.
Howard told TechTarget that SDN as a way to separate the control plane and the data plane of a network is just a means to an end, however. The real value lies in the innovation that third-party software can bring to the table. Nicira is one of the first companies to innovate with SDN and bring a product to market, which is why VMware snapped up the company.
“OpenFlow and any of these SDN protocols are like an enabler, like the syntax of how one side can talk to the other,” Howard concluded. “It's how you can pass questions back and forth. But the content of the question and the content of the answer is where the real value lies.”
Networking giant Cisco (News - Alert) has articulated an SDN strategy but not yet begun delivering products, according to TechTarget, and switching and routing vendors such as HP Networking, Brocade and Extreme Networks (News - Alert) have started supporting OpenFlow on some of their hardware, but there’s still much room for growth as the industry explores the technology.
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Edited by Jamie Epstein