In my job as Cisco’s Field & Sales CTO for Borderless Networks in the Cisco EMEAR Theatre, I have the privilege of working directly with many Cisco customers and partners. The majority of these folks are what you’d call “Technical Decision Makers” and CTOs. They’re the IT leaders who do the planning, the strategy, and work on the evolution of their infrastructure.
And frankly, in my 20 years in the IT industry, I have never witnessed such a perfect IT storm!
We are in the midst of a time in IT, where, for most organizations, the current megatrends are having a profound impact on the relevance of their IT. This is felt in both the infrastructure technologies as well as the solutions required to support those megatrends. Read More »
Energetic debates of what SDN is and the expanding scope of what it can do for our customers continue to race along in a chaotic frenzy. In addition, the overall SDN market is somewhat fragmented in terms of both vendor positioning and marketing. Collectively, the conversation really comes down to improving business agility and the efficiencies gained in bringing new services to market. Essentially, the goal is to enable operators to make their networks and services go much faster.
While software defined networking (SDN) technologies continue to drive significant entropy in our industry, Network Function Virtualization (NFV) recently rose up and became a key focus of many discussions at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month. Read More »
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.
Last week at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, I had the pleasure of speaking to thousands of security professionals about the opportunities and risks associated with using Software Defined Networking (SDN) for security, which will be the underlying fabric of our next generation data centers and networks. SDN-enabled security will provide a better way to secure our most valuable applications, users and data, now and in the future.
Each vendor has a different definition of how the network is changing, and there are many different terms being used, such as software defined data center and software defined storage. Cisco calls this Application Centric Networking, for example, because we are introducing programmable APIs with a focus on distributed control plane intelligence so that applications can get value directly from the network.
It’s obvious why the networking industry is embracing SDN: lower operational costs and the ability to deploy applications and network services in a quicker, more scalable manner. Cloud bursting, which is about flexible compute in the cloud, is another SDN benefit that gives us the ability for applications to interact directly with the network in ways that do not happen today. For example, applications will be able to query the network for location of users to manage Quality of Service and deliver highly targeted content.
So why should the security industry care about SDN? As the threat landscape evolves, the opportunity is to make Security a key application for SDN. We can use SDN to build a Network-based Threat Defense System. I see three key elements to this system:
In this week’s episode of Engineers Unplugged, Brian Gracely (@bgracely) of Virtustream takes on the challenge of explaining the industry’s top buzzword, Software Defined Networking, using doughnuts. Seeing is believing:
Welcome to Engineers Unplugged, where technologists talk to each other the way they know best, with a whiteboard. The rules are simple:
Episodes will publish weekly (or as close to it as we can manage)