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Networking Unplugged

Perspectives on cloud networking and software-defined WANs

Posted April 15, 2013
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Open Daylight: A Shining Light or Just Shining Us On

With the recent announcement of the Open Daylight consortium, headed by Cisco, Juniper and IBM, I can’t help but ask... Where will the real innovations in networking come from in the next few years?  The big guys have had their hands on the wheel for the last decade, and by most accounts, those were the most boring years in networking history.  What? MPLS?  That’s all you’ve got?  But finally, networking has become exciting again. There are new problems to solve and a wave of new tools and services to bring them to market.

While the network guys were napping, the world changed.  VMware came along and transformed computing forever with mass virtualization.  AWS figured out how to package that power as a service in the form of virtual hosting.  Folks like Heroku built on top of AWS to make deployment of production applications a breeze. The barrier to developing new services plummeted and began a feedback loop of new technology.  Services like GitHub became economically viable, and even hosted open source tools that were then used to build even more services. Innovation ensued.

To give credit where credit is due, none of this would have been possible without Cisco and Juniper.  The Internet runs on the fast and reliable infrastructure that they built.  But ironically, they are starting to hinder progress.  That solid, reliable network just isn’t flexible enough to support the dynamic nature of this new computing model.   We needed some innovation in networking and it just wasn’t going to come from the same old place.  We need to set networking free. There were a few obvious reasons; they had the market locked up and didn’t really need to change, they had a huge installed base of products that they’d like to keep selling, and last but not least, they were stuck in the same mind-set that they had ten years ago.  Enter SDN.

A new approach was indeed brewing in the labs of Stanford and 2010 was the time for it to blossom.  Nicira and Big Switch emerged with a solution to the dynamic virtual network problem and a fresh perspective on how to build networks. They began with the data center, and now Pertino and others are extending that concept into the WAN.  Building virtual overlay networks on top of the proven and reliable one - the transport network - and then extracting and centralizing the control plane so that unlimited compute power can be applied to high-level management and orchestration.  The approach enables the rapid evolution of the entire stack.   It’s software.  It’s nimble.  And it is fueled by the very service industry that it is helping.  The feedback loop of innovation continues.

So now Cisco, Juniper and IBM have announced the Open Daylight SDN project.  Real disruptive innovation from the big guys?  Not quite. A quick peek under the hood reveals a whole bunch of Floodlight.  Big Switch is the innovator in this crowd.  The new-found motivation is understandable.  And while the message may be noble, prematurely standardizing the entire stack will likely stifle innovation and put control of the future of open networks back on the hands of the big guys.

As we’ve seen with computing, the future of networking won’t come from the past.

Scott Hankins

Scott Hankins

Co-Founder & CTO

Before coming to Silicon Valley for some excitement, I spent seven years building robots at NASA. Developed core networking technology, filed four patents, and ran the deep packet inspection team at Packeteer. From there, I took some time off to explore some ideas, one of which turned into Pertino.

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