If you keep your ear to the ground, you’ll already know Cisco announced a new jump into the SDN space this week. I sat around the table and talked about the announcement with Greg, Ethan, and the gang here on Packet Pushers, so you probably already know some of my reaction to this announcement, but I figured it’s always worth talking about twice, so…
First, this is a good thing because it breaks the SDN mold. Software Defined Networks isn’t just about one API, it’s a collection of ideas about making networks simpler to run but more complex at the data plane at the same time. Applying software principles to network operations and design is a good path into the future, one every network engineer should be paying attention to, and getting their hands dirty in, wherever possible. Will SDNs be a silver bullet that solves all our problems? No. We’ll end up trading one type of complexity for another, in the long run, and we’ll have to learn how to handle these tools with care over time.
Second, this is a good thing because it will, at least to some degree, get us back to foundational ideas, and away from the arms race in line cards and backplane speeds. Speeds and feeds are clearly important, but they aren’t the end-all-be-all of network design and architecture. Neat new line cards are neat, and new, but while line cards can be replaced, the time and energy spent learning the features of each every new line card can’t.
Third, don’t forget that Cisco, like all companies, is in this game to make money. One of the nice things about OpenFlow is that it’s a standard set of APIs. Like all standard APIs, OpenFlow has a large set of problems that can be eliminated by tying it more closely with a particular vendor’s software. Horses are prettier than camels, but that thoroughbred horse is quite expensive… There’s going to be the usual tradeoff between vendor lock-in and open standards to be settled here. The dance of the protocol standards body isn’t going to end any time soon.
Fourth, don’t forget that Cisco, like all large companies, is, after all, a large company. And like all large companies, Cisco has it’s fair share of politics, infighting, and conflicting visions. As a fifteen year veteran of Cisco, having worked in every major piece of the company, I’ve seen more than my fair share of politics trumping technology and common sense.
The bottom line —don’t think a single announcement by Cisco is going to turn the world around. Take the good for what it’s worth, keep your eye on the bad, and continue apace.