23 February 2012

NetEvents Garmisch 2012 blog - part one

Dan Pitt, Open Network Foundation: A Revolution in Networking is on the Horizon

NetEvents, held in Garmisch at the Sonnenbichl Hotel and overlooked by the Zugspitz, Germany's highest mountain, opened with a keynote presentation on software-defined networking from Dan Pitt, Executive Director and sole full-time employee of the Open Network Foundation (ONF).

Networking equipment has always combined the control and data planes, said Pitt, but now they could be separated. The ONF supports software-defined networking (SDF), via the Open Flow protocol, which allows packet control in switches and routers to be separated from the mechanism that actually directs packets.

The advantages, according to Pitt, are that you would need only one operating system instance running on any single network and it would perform all the control functions that are currently performed by multiple instances, one in every switch. This lightens the processing load, it gives control to the centre, and it allows third parties to write applications for that device. These network apps might be specific to each business application, which would bind the network to business goals tighter than ever before. Switches and routers, Pitt said, then become simple packet forwarding devices.

"Telcos have been doing this for 100 years but it's new to data networking," Pitt said. "Instead of OSPF in every device, you put it in the central OS."

Member companies that have signed up for SDN and who are on the board of directors include large end users such as Google, Yahoo, Verizon, Deutsche Telekom and NTT.

"No vendors are allowed on the board," Pitt said. "Only the board can found a working group, approve standards and appoint chairs of working groups. Vendors can be on the groups but not chair them. So users are in the driving seat."

Other member companies include chip and switch vendors, including Cisco, and others including Citrix, Dell, VMware and Infoblox.

"In future, networking will become just an integral part of computing, using same tools as the rest of computing," Pitt said. "Enterprises will get out of managing plumbing, operators will become software companies, IT will add more business value, and there will be more network startups from Generation Y."

Before taking his place on the panel for the next session, Pitt was asked what impact this architectural shift would have on network performance. He said that a 30,000-user campus could be supported by a four-year-old Dell PC.

Ian Keene, VP, Gartner: Software Defined networking - is it really the future?

The next session picked up where Pitt had left off and discussed the chances of software-defined networking's success. Keene prefaced the panel discussion by asking: "In 2010, the top three network equipment vendors owned 82% of the $6bn market - what will they do? What about carrier networks, a $13bn market with top four vendors having 85% of market value. Will SDN rule?"

All the panel members, from Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), SDN board member Deutsche Telekom, Alcatel Lucent, Accedian, Enterasys, and the ONF's Dan Pitt, agreed that SDN was the future.

Asked about compliance, Pitt said the ONF was developing conformance programmes and procedures. "The spec needs to be extended to circuit switching, not just packet switching to as this will allow all switching to be identical. It also needs to work with existing infrastructure," he said.

Challenges were addressed next. "SDN still needs more work, including carrier grade resilience, interoperability with existing systems, and MPLS interoperability," Peter Feil, research director at Deutsche Telekom said. "It needs more than just a four-year-old Dell."

Marc Lassere said that lots remained to be done: "How do controllers talk to each other, and what about redundancy?" Feil disagreed: "SDN is already in use - look at the board members who are already using it."

Discussing the architectural changes, Markus Nispel, technology strategist at Enterasys, said: "You need to check the use cases that will affect the upper layers, and I agree you need a distributed control plane for complex secured networks. But hybrid systems will be around for a while."

Asked about performance, Lassere said: "Packets will still run at wire speed but this is not the main problem. You will need APIs that allow apps and the network to talk to each other and right now they don't." Feil said that the community would build apps using the open source model.

As for SDN's chances, Volker Distelrath, research head at NSN said: "It's open, that's the crucial thing and the main players have bought in and are working on it." Craig Easley, marketing VP at Accedian said: "End users are working on it too and that's a big point in its favour."

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