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Networking Field Day 5: SDN and Unicorn Blood

March 10, 2013 at 11:51 pm PST

So, we wrapped up our day with the Networking Field Day crew last week with a free form discussion on where we go next with SDN.  To be honest, the session did not go quite as I envisioned, but, in retrospect, I would not changed anything.  As Ethan Banks (of PacketPushers fame) noted in Twitter, this session was more about shooting the unicorns than letting them run free.  It seems that if we are going to convert our SDN unicorns into SDN plough horses, we are going to shed a little blood.  At the end of the day, the market will be served by frank conversations—we need to move beyond painting SDN acolytes as starry-eyed and SDN detractors as being heretical and reactionary.

In the interest of keeping the conversation going, here are some of the things I walked away with after the conversation on Wednesday (in no particular order):

Is Hardware Innovation is Over?

This industry has always been one big pendulum and, currently, the pendulum is firmly in the software camp.  Today, many of the truly interesting things in networking are going on with software.  While most would agree we are at an inflection point with programmability, there are no clear directions for the evolution of SDN.  Certainly there are pieces in place like OpenFlow and OpenStack, but OF 1.3 in unlikely to be the zenith of OF evolution let alone SDN evolution—current technologies will continue to mature and new ones will inevitably emerge.  More importantly, the “how we do things” and “what do want to accomplish” of SDN will most certainly continue to evolve and as long as that is the case, software will rule because it’s simply easier and faster to experiment with software.  But, once some clear directions begin to emerge, I guarantee you the action will swing back towards the hardware because doing things in hardware tends to be faster and more efficient.  I could point to Cisco examples of this, but instead look at what Intel, the poster child for general purpose processors, has done with VT extensions to support virtualization or QuickSync for video transcoding.

Is OpenFlow Ready for PrimeTime?

wile-e-coyote

One of the more contentious points yesterday is if OpenFlow is production ready.  I think it’s a flawed “do these jeans make me e look fat” kind of question.  There are certainly folks out there using OF to handle production traffic—for example, some of the cool things Brent Salisbury is doing.  So, it’s not a binary question, but more a matter of assessing scope and scale. The better question to ask is what is the operational and performance envelope of OpenFlow and how does that match my needs, priorities, and capabilities. The risk with any emerging technology is that, often, the only way you find the edge of the envelope is once you’re on the other side, usually with colorful and memorable results. Regardless, I don’t see this question existing in another year or so.

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