NOD: SDN is not OpenFlow, but OpenFlow is a real disruption

Stacey Higginbotham at gigaOm has an interesting piece on the two big trends that will change IT networking - SDN and Openflow

“If 2012 was the year that software-defined networking sold out, then 2013 should be the year that the big players in the industry recognize that their efforts to neutralize the threat of OpenFlow and the coming commoditization of networking hardware are doomed to failure. I’m sure that many people will declare me wrong, but the promise of SDN and the promise of OpenFlow are different.

Software-defined networking doesn’t require OpenFlow. And it will still make a network programmable and responsive in ways that both scaled-out web-services providers and enterprise customers dealing with virtualization will appreciate. But it won’t necessarily affect the underlying networking hardware in the same way OpenFlow can. However, OpenFlow — the protocol that aims to separate the intelligence require to route a packet from the act of moving a packet– can commoditize the switches and routers. And it will have a big impact on the networking vendors such as Cisco, Arista and Juniper.”

While we believe this is a valid discussion to have about the future of networking we still believe that the two technologies discussed have a ways to go before true adoption.

From an economic standpoint there are HUGE barriers of entry into the over $3.5 Global IT market. First, there are huge swiching cost to get network egineers to learn new ways of designing networks with openflow and SDN. Think of the time invested for your engineers to learn BGP. What about now when alot of routing and switching will programmable ?

Secondly, network effects are evident within the IT industry. “Best Practices” and white papers are the life blood of IT and a ton of individuals within the industry can help solve just about any problem. These new technologies may be able to solve a few pain points (ie one master controller for a 1000-node network, or real-time information on network performance) but they are so new its hard to figure out what will work for your specific use case.

Finally, the sunk cost within enterprises networks are huge. Large companies have spent millions in desiging and optimzing their networks. These investments have a value they hope to achieve in the futrue, therefore the liklihood of abandoning this path is highly unliklihood. The article itself mentions…

“Few businesses have the resources to program and support entirely new networking code for new routers built on commodity hardware, and even fewer want to rip out their existing gear to buy a new OpenFlow-based network.”


These new technologies will probably gain greater traction once Public and Private Clouds gain greater acceptance within companies. In our opinion, it makes no sense to experiment with these new technologies unless you are  doing something radical in delivering IT services to your customers. Cloud and the virtualization of servers is allowing that with the ability to move virtual machines (VMs)  to the user. Now that servers and applications no longer reside in one location a more dynamic , centrally controlled netwok will be needed to keep track of the geographic locations of VMs.  Then it will make financial sense for companies to invest in Openflow and SDN.



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