The Promise and Challenges of Software Defined Networking
Software Defined Networking (SDN) sector received a huge boost last month by the announcement from VMWare that it will purchase Nicira a SDN company for a whopping 1.26 Billion dollars in cash and assumption of existing equity. Nciria has raised over $50 Million in financing including investment by Diane Greene an original founder of VMware. Nicira 5 years old technology company does support OpenFlow and it boasts a handful customer including organization such as NTT. NTT has deployed Nciria in a lab environment. In my previous discussion with Mr. Yukio, Senior Vice President of Service Infrastructure, NTT Communications Corporation is at least couple of years away from deploying SDN for full production.
One questions the leap of faith purchase by VMware’s management team for the value received for the recent acquisition of Nicira. It was only less than a year ago that VXLAN (Virtual Extensible Local Area Network )was announced at VMworld with much fan fair as the VMware standard for “floating” virtual domains on top of a common networking and virtualization infrastructure.
This year VMware management team has decided to spend over 1.2 Billion dollars to acquire a 100 employee company built on Opensource technology that is still a lab product for majority of its customers while providing tremendous return for its organization founder. The only justification for this purchase price is that VMware was late in adopting SDN. Additionally VXLAN was insufficient for VMware and Ciscos ever tangled relationship to having a meaningful hold in network virtualization. With time both Cisco and VMware organizations would only be a side note to the network virtualization market in the coming years. In defense of VMware management purchase price for Nicira it can be said that VMware was late in the game of SDN, with its sponsorship of Open Networking Research Center a joint project by UC Berkeley and Stanford University in April of this year. Therefore they are willing to pay a hefty premium to play a roll in the future of SDN and OpenFlow.
For the telecommunications network providers such as NTT, Software Defined Networking (SDN) holds a promise of enabling them to crack the expensive proprietary black box of network device manufactures. SDN and OpenFlow dramatically reduce the capital expenditure and operating expenses for these providers, by using commodity equipment that don’t have expensive build-in control-plane. OpenFlow and SDN enable the telecom providers to move away from embedded routing and switching at the network device layer by separating the physical network layer and virtualizing the network management layer. OpenFlow and SDN are relatively new. The technology was first develop at Stanford University and then adopted by organization such as Google and Indiana University. In the past couple of years that SDN has gained the attention of telecom providers such as NTT, AT&T and Verizon. The challenge that these providers face is that SDN OpenFlow controllers need to work in a distributed environment so the network policies can be managed across a diverse set of network devices across the globe. Additionally SDN and OpenFlow standards and API’s are still in development impacting how a particular ISP can interact with another using OpenFlow. Therefore Software Defined Networking at telecommunication and service providers is still a number of years away.
Outside of a handful of large enterprise technology companies such as Google, majority of enterprise customers cannot leverage OpenFlow outside of the walls of internal networks, unless they use a product similar to Netscaler Cloud-Bridge that does tunneling across the telecom provider networks. BigSwitch Networks is a startup that offers the ability to tunnel OpenFlow through an existing provider network and has announced support for OpenStack. For enterprise customers looking for a more established and tested solution should consider Citrix Netscaler Cloud Bridge solution. Netscaler Cloud Bridge Solution provides application level SDN using the Netscaler application delivery controller (ADC) for easier application level management and control within the hybrid cloud environments.
Specifically if an organization is looking to manage data security, compliance and user transparency within the cloud environment for bursting traffic and workloads, and finally to keep traffic flow between applications as the network topology changes they should consider a Cloud Bridge solution. Cloud Bridge provides secure traffic flow between various hosted applications on wide area network and provides additional level of virtualization, monitoring and application traffic management as part of an overall hybrid cloud deployment strategy. The Cloud Bridge solution by Netscaler does not address the needs of Openflow management for large telecom backbone providers but it does provide an effective point solution for enterprise customers looking to take a more direct control of virtual network layer within the enterprise infrastructure. It does provide an ease of VM and application management within the enterprise infrastructure.
Using the Netscaler solution is not cheap. It does not replace the proprietary networking black box hardware and it does require application level delivery management. Combining a well-defined and managed ADC policy as part of the infrastructure with dedicated control plane across the network does guarantee quality of service for application delivery in hybrid infrastructure environments. Additionally Netscaler Cloud Bridge, REST API provide an integration means into traditional cloud management platforms.