In Industry Insights, Plexxi Switch, SDN

Today Plexxi and SolarWinds participated in SDNCentral’s DemoFriday where they demonstrated a DevOps integration that builds and sustains Plexxi Affinities using compute and network information for both physical and virtual nodes, resulting from SolarWinds Orion NPM. This integration creates a less complex operational environment and ultimately mitigates long-term operational expense (OpEx). In Plexxi’s video of the week Dan Backman explains how Plexxi’s Switch 2 has evolved from our cleverly named Switch 1 and Switch 1x. Here is the video of the week and some of my reads in the Plexxi Pulse – enjoy!



James Alan Miller at Biztech says only 3 percent of small businesses worldwide know about SDN and they need to learn more to take advantage of this new technology. I don’t think it is very surprising that SDN hasn’t taken off in the small enterprise yet. The opportunities to save OpEx will be greater where this is more OpEx used, so SDN will have a larger impact on larger companies. That said, saving money in a cash-strapped world is important everywhere. DevOps may actually be better technology for smaller companies to pursue. While the two intersect, DevOps may yield more immediate returns without disrupting the architecture that they have built up already.

Ronald Gruia, a director of Emerging Telecoms at Frost & Sullivan contributed to InformationWeek on how SDN is a driving force of innovation across industries. SDN will have a large impact on the network communications market in particular. I think the overall premise is accurate here. There continues, however, to be the larger industry issue of lumping together SDN and commodity hardware. The premise is that separating out the intelligence allows for cheaper underlying hardware. Hardware prices will come down – convergence on a smaller set of merchant silicon, but commodities happen when there is little or no differentiation. There is nothing inherent to SDN that limits differentiation, and more than 80% of R&D costs are on the software side (and have been for more than a decade). The costs to recoup are not the small per-component hardware costs, but the billions in R&D spend. Just dropping the price of components doesn’t change the software effort. I believe the more likely outcome is a shift in pricing mix from hardware to software, with solution pricing being driven by competition more than any SDN technology.

The Networking Nerd’s Tom Hollingsworth describes the recent Storage Field Day 4 where Howard Marks spoke about storage Quality of Service (QoS). Howard’s ideal storage array sounded very similar to strict priority queuing. Tom says, “programming a storage array is much different that programming a router or a switch. But the abstraction of SDN allows [users] to input a given command and have it executed on dissimilar hardware via automation and integration.” Abstraction is the right thing to look at. It’s interesting that we have been focusing on the opposite of abstraction as an industry for most of the SDN push. OpenFlow is the lowest level protocol we could have picked to start with (and there is no debating that it is useful, so I don’t intend this to start a religious war). If the real problem is workflow automation, it means we need to put that same amount of energy into defining abstractions, and the people defining them need to be thinking more than just networking. This is certainly the premise behind contributing the affinity work to OpenDaylight. These abstractions need to transcend vendors and technologies. Hopefully we see more people thinking community first.

Jim Duffy at Network World says that unlike what many have said in the networking community, SDN is not a threat to Cisco. Instead, Cisco embraces SDN as an opportunity and growth engine. SDN is bringing more competition to the space, and competition will put pressure on the incumbent in any market. I don’t know that Cisco will necessarily suffer crushing defeat because of this competition, but it is hard to imagine that a dominant incumbent stands to win more shares of the market because of a disruptive technology. I do think we will see Cisco firm up the mobile operator space with SDN. They have been quietly assembling parts (topology with Cariden, policy with Broadhop, and you would think they have analytics in mind). There could be meaningful impacts to Huawei and Juniper who walked away from MobileNext already. That said, I think the actual implication of Cisco’s application-first strategy is that it pulls them closer to Oracle in the long-run. The real fireworks could take place with networking providing a nice grass field from which to watch.

Network World’s Editor in Chief John Dix interviewed the chair of the ONF, Justin Joubine Dustzadeh, CTO & VP of Technology Strategy, Networks, Huawei. Justin says the group’s goal is to help the network industry accelerate the adoption of open SDN and he addresses the future milestones and industry players. It’s good to see the focus shifting from technology to adoption. I like that the ONF is getting more engaged in helping migrations, and it’s nice to see an upbeat SDN discussion that doesn’t stray too far into hype or gloom. I wonder if SDN adoption and OpenFlow adoption are exactly the same, so it will be interesting to see how new technologies get folded into the mix. I am particularly interested in seeing PCE, ALTO, and BGP-TE as I believe they could be game changers.

Dan Conde of Midokura argues in Enterprise Networking Planet that overlay software defined networking is needed on top of underlay networks that are “dumb, fast, and out of control.”  This article provides a good description of how overlays separate the intelligence from the underlying hardware. I wonder if people new to the space are confused. Ultimately, the packets will traverse network devices. The idea that there is an overlay is interesting, but that overlay has to be tied to the underlying hardware at some point. Two overlays converge on switch A. Which one gets priority? At some point, there is value to pinning the overlays to the physical hardware. That’s not to say that the physical stuff ought to matter most either. There has to be a solution to the edge policy problem, so separation is great, but I think when people are imprecise, we see the pendulum swinging too hard to either the overlay or the hardware side. I suspect the real answer will be somewhere in the middle, and in that scenario, the questions we need to be asking are about the maintenance, monitoring, and troubleshooting tools to live in such a world.

John Dix at Network World also focused on how the ONF is expanding and more than 30 million Open-Flow-enabled ports have shipped. This group is gaining momentum and also changing with industry advancements and events. Joe Skorupa, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner argued, “The real question is, where does the incremental money come from? Because the last I heard, none of the vendors involved are charities. And you can’t just stand up and say, ‘Well, it will all be operational savings.’ No, it won’t. Unless you’re going to cut a massive amount of staff. Somewhere you’ve got to come up with the dollars, and they’re hard dollars.” Skorupa’s points about where the money comes from are solid. People talk about savings as if that money doesn’t get spent or somehow gets returned to the company. If the savings are personnel costs, that only happens if the company restructures its workforce. The more likely scenario is not money saved, but rather that these now liberated souls can do more meaningful work aside from just maintaining edge policy. This of course will take time, but it suggests that productivity might be the real winner, not just an improved bottom line. CIOs need to be aware of this, and VPs need to set expectations appropriately. The worst thing for the entire industry would be promised savings that never materialize because the math was fuzzy.

Showing 2 comments
  • Allen Baylis

    No doubt Cisco is the 800lbs beast but this transition will definitely impact them.

    • mike.bushong


      I tend to agree. When SDN first started, I said that it could mean double digit share changes over the medium term. When you sit at 70+% share, there is little chance that SDN allows you to gain additional share. What SDN is doing is more interesting from a competitive landscape than a technology landscape. If it was just tech, Cisco could implement the features. But the VC money flooding in is creating new competition. Competition could chip away at share. And SDN will level the playing field, essentially neutralizing the last 3 decades of feature development. I don’t think Cisco is in trouble by any stretch, and I think my initial double-digit share move was hyper aggressive, but I do think this creates opportunity for the bevy of combatants in the networking space.


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