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?
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.
What better way to spend Valentine’s day than to watch a webcast on OpenFlow and SDN, perhaps with your significant other? The last couple of years have seen considerable buzz around aspects of software-defined networking. A significant portion of the early seed discussion was around OpenFlow. As part of the Cisco Open Network Environment webcast series, this time on February 14th, 2013 at 9 AM PST, we take look at an :Introduction to OpenFlow”: What is it? How does it work? What are some of the potential use-cases?
Joining me in this discussion with be David Ward, Cisco CTO of Engineering and Chief Architect. At the time of recording David also wears the hat of the being the Chair of the Technical Advisory Group at Open Network Foundation (ONF). So he brings perspectives both as someone who’s driving the evolution of the protocol, as well as somebody guiding its implementation across several products within the Cisco portfolio.
Also joining the webcast to lend end-user perspectives will be Matt Davy, who is formerly of Indiana University, having been the executive director of the INCenter facility there. Matt’s recently moved onto a new role, but he built a lighthouse test bed around OpenFlow and SDN the last few years during this employment at the university. Matt will talk about campus slicing and his experiences around OpenFlow. Providing service provider perspectives from NTT communications will be Yuichi Ikejiri, Director of the Network Technology Services division.
As mentioned before, this is part of an educational series. If you’ve not watched the first in the series, entitled “An Introduction to OpenStack” – please feel free to register and watch it here. The panel of Lew Tucker and Raj Patel below provide interesting perspectives on OpenStack.
Customers have often said to me, “Joann, we have virtualization all over the place. That’s cloud isn’t it?” My response is, “Well not really, that is not a cloud, but you can get to cloud!” Then there is a brief uncomfortable silence, which I resolve with an action provoking explanation that I will now share with you.
Here’s why that isn’t truly a cloud. What these customers often have is server provisioning that automates the process of standing up new virtual servers while the storage, network, and application layers continue to be provisioned manually. The result is higher management costs that strain IT budgets, which are decreasing or flat to begin with. With this approach, businesses aren’t seeing the agility and flexibility they expected from cloud. So, they become frustrated when they see their costs rising and continue struggling to align with new business innovation.
If your IT department adopted widespread virtualization and thought it was cloud, my guess is you are probably nodding your head in agreement. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
So then, what are the key elements an organization needs to achieve the speed, flexibility and agility promised by cloud?
1) Self-service portal and service catalog The self-service portal is the starting point that customers use to order cloud services. Think of a self-service portal as a menu at a restaurant. The end user is presented with a standardized menu of services that have been defined to IT’s policies and standards and customers simply order what they need. Self-service portals greatly streamline resource deployment which reduces the manual effort by IT to provision resources.
2) Service delivery automation
After the user selects services from the portal service menu, then what? Well, under the hood should be automated service delivery—which is a defining characteristic of a real cloud environment. Behind each of the standardized menu items in the self-service portal is a blueprint or instructions that prescribe how the service order is delivered across the data center resources. This has been proven to appreciably simplify IT operations, reduce costs and drive business flexibility.
Over the last several months, since Cisco announced its Open Network Environment strategy, there has been considerable progress on multiple fronts:
- Early field trials (EFTs) with several Enterprise and Service Provider customers
- Proof-of-concepts (PoCs) and customer feedback providing more insight into use-cases and product evolution
- Several acquisitions have been announced that complement the strategy we outlined
- Our engagement and leadership in all the standards bodies around various aspects of open networking continue to grow
During all of these activities and customer interactions, what stood out was the considerable appetite amongst customers and others to learn about these emerging concepts in a more structured way. They expressed a strong desire to break through some of the hype cycle that has pervaded the industry around some of these topics, causing some degree of confusion. They also asked Cisco to present information in an easily consumable manner.
Given the breadth of our portfolio and the diversity of our customer base, this was a bit of challenge for us. A lot of this information was disbursed across different landing pages, blog sites etc. So we had to take a fresh approach to accede to this request.
Based on efforts over the last several weeks, the team has built two foundational portals that serve the purpose of both information aggregation as well as hopefully a watering hole for knowledge seekers -
The Cisco ONE Knowledge portal: This is a centralized aggregated information repository of all the content that we are generating around the topic of open networking across the portfolio, whether it is more formal and structured, or more informal and social. The information here is organized in a more structured way, based on type of content and the chronology.
What you will see is some quality content manifest itself over time, as we bring the consolidated efforts from various Cisco thought leaders, customers, analysts etc. and assets including more demos, deployment use-cases, case-studies etc. We are also initiating a series of webcasts on this topic to do a deeper dive on technology topics with roughly a 4-6 week cadence, with Cisco CTOs across various technology groups mostly leading the sessions. The intent is to Educate in a more structured manner. For example, we’re kicking off the first of these Cisco ONE webinars with “An Introduction to OpenStack”. (If you have not registered for the webcast yet, please do so).
We sincerely welcome your feedback on how to continue to improve the content as well as experience with the Cisco ONE knowledge portal.