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A flurry of OpenFlow activity signals the arrival of this software-defined network tech

A flurry of OpenFlow activity signals the arrival of this software-defined network tech

Belief in OpenFlow-based software-defined networking is coalescing rapidly, the latest evidence being the overflow crowds at last week's Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara, Calif., and new details about a Cisco startup that has been formed to address the opportunity.

After having to turn people away at an overflowing Summit meeting last October, event organizers shifted last week’s meeting to a venue twice as large but still maxed out registration and had to create a wait list (see "Open Networking Summit 2012: Google, Verizon, NEC, others tackle future of OpenFlow").

This stuff is hot.

CISCO PARTNER SUMMIT: Cisco tries to head off software-defined networks

One of the attractions at the Summit was a keynote by Google Fellow and senior vice president for Technical Infrastructure Urs Hölzle, who discussed how Google has already completed the migration of its huge, international inter-data center network to OpenFlow, essentially separating network control from the data plane.

Network World blogger Art Fewell, who was at the event, said Hölzle cited a litany of benefits of using software-defined networking, including the ability to get "a global view of network utilization, allowing simple and dynamic traffic-steering on low cost hardware" (see "Google showcases OpenFlow network").

Google is one of the early backers of the Open Networking Foundation, the group that was launched in March 2011 "to standardize and promote SDN interfaces and protocols including OpenFlow." Other early backers of the work first done at Stanford and Berkeley include Microsoft, Verizon and Facebook.

In fact, a week before the Summit, Google, Cisco, Juniper and a host of other tech companies teamed with research groups at Berkeley and Stanford to create the Open Networking Research Group, another sign the industry is serious about this stuff.

The incumbent network players have to be involved, of course, because they fear that separating the network data plane from the control plane and offloading the latter to servers, as SDNs do, reduces the value of their products, so they need to keep an eye on developments.

While Cisco had been hedging its OpenFlow bets, it has since jumped in with both feet by creating Insieme. CEO John Chambers last week said Cisco has invested $100 million in the venture, with the right to purchase the remaining interests of the company for up to $750 million, a so-called spin-in.

Despite the flurry of activity around SDNs, experts remind us that it is still early days. This will be a long journey. Nevertheless, Fewell says it is never too early to start asking suppliers for their long-range OpenFlow plans.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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