CLOUD INFRASTRUCTURE

  • 06/13/2011
    12:52 PM
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OpenFlow And Network Value

The announcement of OpenFlow has some people in networking optimistic that we are about to see a significant change in innovation and progress on network management. OpenFlow is a nascent networking specification that has three key elements: a software controller, the OpenFlow protocol and a client on the network device. It’s important to comprehend that all three elements combine to create a single coherent solution.
Not much has changed in networking since the collapse of the dot-com bubble, with few new protocols or significant technology advances. While network infrastructure has gotten faster and bigger, there has been limited innovation around improved routing protocols, management, operation, security or even better firewalls. In many ways, networking has stagnated while other IT infrastructure segments, such as servers and OS software, have matured swiftly.

On the positive side, network products have progressively become more reliable, more stable, and better understood by those who support and manage them. Networking is quickly becoming commoditized as the different vendor products from Cisco, Juniper and HP are increasingly undifferentiated. Products are reliable enough, software features are roughly at parity, and the performance of all vendors is roughly the same. There are some specific industries--such as high-performance computing or financial networks--that require something different and are met by niche providers such as Force10 at the high end. In situations where lots of low-cost equipment is in order, the likes of Extreme and Broadcom are providing equipment at the low end.

Consider the success of Cisco’s Catalyst 6500 chassis-based switch. First introduced in 1999 and upgraded many times, it is a true veteran product. The C6500 Supervisor 720 module is largely unchanged since its introduction in 2006, and is still widely sold today. Compare this with server and storage multigenerational developments in that time frame, and you can see the innovation gap more clearly.

In the current industry model, networking vendors create customer value by designing the silicon, chassis and operating software as a single source for a network product. Thus, Cisco has been designing and manufacturing chips for its switches and routers since its first phase of growth in the early 1990s. This ownership of the process means that Cisco has complete control over the product, its operation, utilization and the user experience. As a result, the customer perceives the greatest value in the network device, and not network management tools and applications that are less important and tend to act in a supporting role or as operational tools.

Consider network management applications, which were once the great hope of vendors and customers to extend the value of their networks by creating a tightly integrated software product that could monitor and manage devices. Ten years later, HP OpenView, Bay Optivity and Spectrum have all failed to deliver and exist in niches. Even CiscoWorks is barely more than a nod to minimum requirements to tick the boxes on a tender.


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