It is early in this trend, but if the attendance and excitement at the Open Networking Summit this week is any indicator it will be a very fast moving market. Attendance has tripled since last year and my guess is they will need a new venue for next year.
Challenges to the Cisco Networking Dominance
The OpenFlow standard originated at Stanford University, and was founded by Nick McKeown and some of his colleagues. We first heard about this from the postgraduate work of one of the founders of a company we funded in 2001 called Voltage Security. Guido then went on to start BigSwitch in the OpenFlow space. The standard was created in reaction to a general frustration that companies like Cisco and Hewlett Packard were essentially “walled gardens”. It was not easy for network technologists to control the flow of data and information through networks. With OpenFlow, McKeown and his colleagues were able to circumvent Cisco and HP hardware to optimize and establish their own desired network flows.
OpenFlow was the pioneer in SDN, and it officially launched as a networking specification in 2008. It was hailed as one of the top 10 emerging technologies in 2009, and paved the way to the Open Networking Foundation in 2011. As of 2012, OpenFlow can be installed on a list of commercially available routers.
Changes in the Data CenterUsing software defined networking such as that provided by OpenFlow, a network administrator can quickly implement changes to an entire network or specific segments by writing code which can modify the logical map of the network within the software. This means that network administration can be done remotely, including making changes to the physical network through software. What once required a technician to physically move a cable from one port to another can now be done through software. This is similar in scope to virtual servers and the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud.
The development of software defined networking has created new alliances between various networking companies. Currently, Cisco, Juniper, HP, NEC, T-Mobile, Ericsson, and NNT DoCoMo are working with OpenFlow to set the standard for software defined networking. These new alliances will hopefully lead to greater innovation at a pace that looks more like software than 2+ year silicon cycles.