2014 Will Put The Software In SDN

Next year, the "S" in SDN will take precedence, allowing new applications and security benefits, according to OpenFlow champion Dan Pitt.

Dan Pitt

December 16, 2013

4 Min Read
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Given the momentum behind SDN and the advancements -- both in market development and technology -- made this year, 2014 will be a very fruitful year indeed, not just quantitatively (more, better, faster) but also qualitatively. As a result, operators, enterprises, and end customers will truly be able to do things they simply could not do before.

Because SDN has already garnered so much attention, there is a baseline of familiarity in the IT community. That means we can progress from explaining so much about what SDN is to talking more about what SDN can do. In addition to my initial set of predictions, look out for these developments:

SDN applications will emerge
The "S" in SDN will take precedence in 2014, as attention shifts from the OpenFlow substrate to the software and services that this foundation supports. As a result, customers will begin seeing one of SDN's key values -- applications from multiple vendors, as happened in computing 30 years ago 

One early application area will be data analysis from network tapping and monitoring. For example, products will mirror or direct flows to programs that analyze them for traffic engineering, security, efficiency, and superior customer experience. Then we'll see applications that use this flow analysis data for dynamic control of the network, as for service chaining in NFV and greater network control, in real time.

Expect both open and proprietary software to meet the demand for these applications. The world of open software will bring a new level of competition to the networking industry (and operators will love it) 

Northbound APIs will accelerate app development
ONF has been reluctant to push for de jure standard APIs, as we believe such software interfaces (as opposed to protocols) should emerge from experience in the market. However, we've seen a demand from developers of application, orchestration, and management software for assistance in understanding northbound APIs as a critical component of a complete SDN solution, and for such APIs to be open.

Consequently, we formed a Northbound Interfaces Working Group to develop concrete requirements, architecture, and working code for northbound interfaces. The NBI Working Group has already illustrated the different levels of abstraction (latitudes) and use cases (longitudes) and will publish its NBI information models in 2014, accompanied by open-source working code for select use cases.

Security will be a killer app for SDN
With its flow-analysis and control-plane capabilities, SDN is perhaps the most effective tool for assuring network security to come along in a decade. In contrast to predefined and static network security policies, SDN allows for truly self-defending networks based on dynamic flow management.

We now see open-source work on security. For example, the Big Switch Networks-sponsored Floodlight community recently announced SE-Floodlight, a reference implementation of a security-enhanced SDN controller, along with two other SDN security applications. In ONF, we're always delighted to see open-source SDN components made available, as these efforts inevitably advance the market.

Over the coming year, we'll see significant progress in the establishment of security mechanisms within OpenFlow and the application of OpenFlow to previously unsolved security problems, such as DDoS attacks and BYOD vulnerabilities. SDN provides the underpinnings to both collect the analytics data needed to identify threat patterns and to dynamically program the network to defend against them, at much finer grain. Next year and beyond, ONF will demonstrate the security of OpenFlow and its value as a tool to enhance network security.

OpenStack support will become ubiquitous
We predict that in 2014 every switch vendor will either demonstrate or claim to have an OpenStack plug-in. A cloud operating system designed to control pools of compute, storage, and networking resources throughout a data center, OpenStack is of particular interest to cloud service companies, who are at the cutting edge of business service virtualization.

SDN education will flourish
The burgeoning interest in SDN by customers and developers will bring an explosion in education and training. SDN education will continue to be front and center at conferences and will become a standard topic for training and certification organizations.

For example, we have seen a number of organizations offering SDN training to professionals, and this spring there will be another massive open online course (MOOC) on SDN, following the tremendous success of a free six-week SDN MOOC offered by Coursera and Georgia Tech's School of Computer Science. Will SDN soon permeate the networking curriculum in undergraduate computer science programs? We hope so. That's been a major goal of the ONF's founders at Stanford and Berkeley.

Dan Pitt is Executive Director of the Open Networking Foundation and has 20 years of experience developing networking architecture, technology, and standards.

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