Today the term “SDN” is at the center of industry hype, however beyond the hype there are substantive reasons why SDN has taken center stage. While many industry conversations are distracted with simplistic notions like whether a vendor’s SDN offering is or is not “real SDN”, inquiry into why SDN rose to popularity and what business and ecosystem challenges need to be solved provides much more meaningful insight.
From the earliest days of SDN’s rise, its first evangelists shared a message about how the networking industry was stuck in a closed and proprietary model that inflated costs and stifled innovation to the point where it could not keep up with application demands. The largest advocates of SDN pointed to the open x86 and computing ecosystems as a clear example of how to solve the networking industries challenges. Amazon SVP and Distinguished Engineer James Hamilton famously noted that “The networking equipment world looks just like mainframe computing ecosystem did 40 years ago. When networking gear is purchased, it’s packaged as a single sourced, vertically integrated stack. Open, multi-layer hardware and software stacks encourage innovation and rapidly drive down costs. The server world is clear evidence of what is possible when such an ecosystem emerges.”
From its origins the SDN movement has highlighted the crippling limitations that closed ecosystems can create and drawn specific comparisons on how the closed mainframe industry evolved toward today’s powerful and innovative open computing community. And the very core of this story is the opening of the x86 architecture and the ability for anyone to innovate freely with any operating system or application paradigm that the hardware could support.
Today initiatives like the OpenFlow protocol have provided greater and more open programming paradigms for networking than at any point in it’s history, however it is still fragmented, immature and incredibly limited compared to the significantly more open paradigms that fuel modern computing where the ecosystem has unfettered control over hardware.
While today anyone can purchase server hardware with control over the hardware they purchased, able to install any operating system and any software they want, this is not the case with networking hardware – but Dell aims to change this paradigm by enabling customers their choice of operating system and laying the groundwork for a truly open application ecosystem for networking.