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Cisco Offers More SDN Hints, Confirms Insieme

Despite months of rumors and speculation, the networking industry's most powerful and influential vendor, Cisco Systems, is continuing to keep its plans for software-defined networking (SDN) largely to itself. In an exclusive interview during this week’s Open Networking Summit (ONS), Shashi Kiran, senior director of market management at Cisco, also an ONS member, says that OpenFlow and SDN are both so new that companies should not be deciding whether to use OpenFlow but rather how they can

Backers of OpenFlow, including some of Cisco’s rivals, are solidifying support around OpenFlow so vendors can develop and customers can enjoy the promised benefits of SDN, including better programmability of networks for greater performance, agility and reliability.

"We believe that the industry should provide open solutions, and then may the best man win," says Saar Gillai, VP and CTO of HP Networking. "We support something we think the industry is standing behind because we think that way customers will have choices."

But while strongly backing OpenFlow, and offering more evidence this week that OpenFlow-based SDN is working right now, Gillai and other OpenFlow supporters acknowledge the protocol is young, still evolving and that other ways of delivering SDN could come along to challenge it.

"You can probably think of a bunch of other ways to do it," says Nick McKeown, professor of Computer Science at Stanford, faculty director of the Open Networking Research Center and one of the original architects of OpenFlow. "But if everybody did their own [protocol], then there would be much less value to it. But [OpenFlow] becomes this building block upon which people can innovate."

McKeown compared OpenFlow to the Intel instruction set (or AMD or others) in processors. The instruction set is low level, but it is designed to run really fast. Developers can customize what they’re doing to a particular environment by building on top of the instruction set, writing programs in a way that would exploit that instruction set. "When you think OpenFlow, think instruction set," says McKeown.

Cisco argues it leads by innovation, which can then become industry standards down the road. OpenFlow is the protocol that helps abstract the control plane from the data plane on a network, enabling software controllers to augment the intelligence in routers and switches to better manage traffic flow. Cisco, which is also a member of the ONF and supportive of OpenFlow, believes OpenFlow is still a work in progress, says Kiran.

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