Networking

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Kevin Fogarty
Kevin Fogarty
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Networking Gets Interesting Again

From software-defined networking to fabrics to powerful new switches, network vendors are fighting for a revitalized market.

There's a new energy in the networking market as vendors roll out unified networking strategies, powerful new hardware, and get their arms around the disruptive technology of software-defined networking.

SDN was everywhere at the 2013 Interop Las Vegas conference, including the keynote stage. And no wonder--SDN promises to upend traditional networking to the same degree that virtualization transformed servers and applications. While technological approaches differ, SDN aims to make rigid physical networks more flexible and scalable; rather than manually configure pathways through the network, SDN brings a level of automation and programmability to match the pace at which applications and services can be deployed inside hypervisors.

SDN technology is still immature, but incumbent vendors and startups alike x have flocked to the market, some to protect their turf and others to unseat entrenched powers.

Juniper Networks has been touted recently for its ambitious SDN product roadmap and by introducing a major new SDN platform months before it was scheduled. Juniper's JunosV Contrail series of SDN products, which it formally announced May 6, comes from its acquisition of startup Contrail, which Juniper purchased even before the startup went public.

Meanwhile, a new company called Nuage Networks, which is backed by Alcatel-Lucent, has thrown its hat into the ring. Nuage Networks is pitching an abstraction layer that creates tunnels between virtual switches. These tunnels are then overlaid onto the physical network. Nuage calls its approach a way to apply the benefits of cloud computing to traditional datacenters without large-scale changes to either the physical or virtual machines that are already there.

Rival Cisco Systems is pushing its effort at consolidating all enterprise networking within the same set of products, including both wired and wireless, which Cisco calls Unified Access. In January of this year, the company announced a slate of new products, including the Catalyst 3850 Unified Access Switch, which can support both wired and wireless traffic and act as a WLAN controller.

Other vendors aren't standing still; Cisco will have to fight for attention as rivals HP and Brocade Communications roll out high-performing switches.

HP's pitch appears to rely on the brute horsepower of its FlexFabric networking products, which HP called the first chassis-based switches to support OpenFlow 1.3 and one of the most bandwidth-heavy products to debut at Interop this month.

HP's FlexFabric 12900, for example, can support as many as 768 ports delivering up to 768Gbit/sec or 256 ports delivering 40Gbit/sec. Cisco's comparable Nexus 7018 is listed as delivering a similar number of 10Gbit/sec ports, but only a fraction of the 40Gbit/sec connections.

Brocade, in particular, will heat up the competitive picture with a series of new products designed to combine not only physical and virtual networks, but also data-center storage, servers and networked services to create cloud-like configurability and interoperability within corporate networks.

The disruption caused by server and storage virtualization has now made its way to the network. With disruption comes uncertainty, but no one can say networking isn't interesting.

Kevin Fogarty is a freelance writer covering networking, security, virtualization, cloud computing, big data and IT innovation. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, CNN.com, CIO, Computerworld, Network World and other leading IT publications. View Full Bio
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