Software-defined networking, an emerging technology that moves intelligence out of switches and routers to a software controller, is seen as a potential threat to networking vendors, particularly market leader Cisco Systems. A Cisco fellow speaking at an SDN conference this week said the company is aware of the situation and is preparing to deal with it.
"Folks get this and how to react to it is what’s being formulated right now,” said David Meyer, prefacing his remarks as his own and not an official Cisco statement. He made the remarks responding to a question from the audience at the Open Networking Summit held at Stanford University.
Software-defined networking is a new technology in which server-based controller software maintains all the rules for the network and sends the appropriate instructions to each router or switch. This is a departure from the architecture of an Ethernet or TCP/IP network where the intelligence is based in the network hardware to route packets, give priority to some traffic over others, perform a security screen and other functions. Software-defined networking is evolving in concert with the development of the OpenFlow networking standard, a research project led by Stanford.
As sister publication InformationWeek reported Monday, OpenFlow-based networking would enable enterprises to replace high-end switches with lower-cost, commodity switches, which could be 70% cheaper than high-end switches such as Cisco’s.
"I think the people at Cisco are well aware of this phenomenon," said Meyer. "It’s very obvious to everyone that something’s going on here, and the question is how to react to it in a way that everybody can live with. When you have a big company like Cisco, you’ve got to socialize those kinds of things." Meyer added that he was pushing people inside Cisco "to start thinking about it."
Software-defined networking based on OpenFlow is driven by the need to design networks that match the dynamic nature of virtualized servers. In a virtualized environment, virtual machines (VMs) can be created quickly and VM workloads can be moved around from one physical server to another as needs dictate. However, existing networks can limit that flexibility based on the configuration of each router or switch.