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Networking Unplugged

Perspectives on cloud networking and software-defined WANs

Posted April 23, 2013
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Open Network Summit 2013: Views From The Booth

Last week, Pertino participated as an exhibitor and presenter at the 3rd Annual Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara, CA. The show, which highlighted this year’s developments in Software-Defined Networking (SDN), hosted over 1,600 networking pros for three days.  Apparently, when you throw a networking party in the heart of Silicon Valley, the Fire Marshall has to show up and turn people away (no kidding!).  The expo floor and the conference sessions were all packed.

I was on-duty at the Pertino booth for three days, hosting customers, press, analysts, and yes, even other vendors – and I was able to meet with IT professionals from all kinds of industries.  Universities, carriers, managed service providers, outsourced IT, and lots of networking researchers were in attendance, all seeking to better understand the state of SDN. 

From my perspective, the key takeaway from this year’s ONS was this: SDN is still evolving… and still widely misunderstood.  And I think that’s as it should be with a set of technologies this young.  Even the objectives of SDN are ambiguous to many; the target customers still look to SDN in hopes of saving money, saving time, and accelerating service delivery.

However, everyone seems to agree on one definitive characteristic of SDN, albeit an abbreviated one:  separation of control and data forwarding planes. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, the control plane exists as software (in the SDN world) that controls the relationship between a network consumer (man or machine), their associated policies, and the corresponding flow of traffic across the data plane.  Notice I didn’t say “route” traffic – as SDN is not a replacement for core IP routing functions.  The data plane is the actual “packet path” between networked devices.  A data plane is typically comprised of a set of premise or cloud-based virtual switches that direct the flow of traffic within a control plane’s span of control. The promise of the SDN data plane is that it supports a multi-tenant, multi-virtual network architecture and uses controller intelligence to eliminate topological and port-level configurations.

It may be that the concept of control and data planes was shared across all emerging SDN vendors, but the application of those ideas remains really diverse!

Most of the SDN vendors at ONS were heavily focused on the datacenter.  Vendors tout the SDN as the long-awaited answer to providing scalable network virtualization, slicing, and dynamic and elastic connectivity to virtual machine environments as they spin up and down within a datacenter.  This is a key technology for folks like Amazon, Rackspace, 8x8, and other hosting providers, who are constantly battling the growth of customers’ virtual machines in their datacenters.

Pertino’s story at ONS provided a stark contrast against the din of datacenter solutions.  We were kind of the “odd man out.”  And it was my job to explain that difference to people expecting “traditional” datacenter SDN form all the vendors at the show. The difference is this: Pertino uses the concepts of SDN to connect people and computers across the WAN, not just virtual machines inside data centers.  I was calling it “A new way to WAN” – but people weren’t quite getting it.

So I tried “Networks-as-a-Service” (NaaS.  As in: “I love Pertino!  It’s so very NaaS…”)  Some lightbulbs went off over people’s heads as they realized that Pertino provides instant, secure networks, with no hardware, no hassle, and no need for even a single IP address to configure.

But when I explained that Pertino provides “overlay networks” to build secure, private connections across the public Internet, people started asking for demos. “Can I use this to connect to my mom’s PC for remote troubleshooting?  Can I connect to my home machine from work to transfer files?  Can I use this for HQ access for all my remote workers? Precisely – that’s the “new way to WAN”. We see solutions to problems outside the datacenter.  We connect people to other people.  We connect all kinds of machines to the other machines, files, applications, and services people need to get things done. Are you using Pertino to connect your machines?  What for?  Whom for?  Let us know and share your thoughts! 

Chris Webber

Chris Webber

Product Manager

I've been on both the smart and dumb ends of the helpdesk phone, owned telephony and mobility, managed security policies and implementation, built and maintained site-to-site and internal networks, and owned and maintained "the lab" more times than I care to recall. After spending time at web security, cloud security, networking, and mobile companies, I'm now a Product Manager at Pertino.

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