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Will 2014 Be The Year of Software Defined Everything?

Enterprise Networking Planet

When I accepted the post of editor at Enterprise Networking Planet earlier this year, I had no idea how good the timing was. I came on board just in time to observe and chart the rise of software defined networking (SDN). And software defined networking, born of Martin Casado's OpenFlow open source protocol, looks poised to completely transform the way enterprise data centers work.

These days, we understand SDN as the opening up or abstraction of network components
such that they can be controlled, configured, and optimized by software and applications. SDN turns the network and application relationship on its head. Instead of the capabilities of the infrastructure determining what can be done on the network, SDN allows what needs to be done on the network to determine the infrastructure. Theoretically, the result is a network of unparalleled agility, able to adapt to whatever an enterprise needs at any given time.

Vendor Visions

The road that led to this understanding has been a fascinating one to travel. Back in May, Sean Michael Kerner reported on the results of a Cisco survey that revealed "a healthy amount of skepticism" from IT pros when it comes to SDN. The interest outweighed the skepticism even back then, however. Vendors large and small, from major players like Cisco and Juniper to startups like PLUMgrid and Plexxi, pushed ahead with their visions for the software defined network of the future.

Meanwhile, open source groups like the Open Networking Foundation (responsible for OpenFlow) and the OpenDaylight Project continued to work on open standards to fulfill the SDN dream. OpenFlow is particularly important to Juniper. Earlier this fall, the vendor announced both the availability of its Contrail SDN controller and its intention to open source the controller.

Cisco, meanwhile, recently unveiled its SDN vision. That vision, the Application Centric Infrastructure developed through its spin-out Insieme, aims to make the application the driving force behind the enterprise's software defined infrastructure…and it depends in large part on proprietary Cisco hardware. That focus on Cisco gear ruffled a few feathers, particularly among Cisco rivals like Juniper, but the fact remains that Cisco is so omnipresent within the enterprise that whatever they do is worth watching. What they're doing is leveraging their power to make SDN a reality.

SDN Challenges

Of course, SDN isn't a magic bullet that will take away all of an enterprise's networking woes. The very flexibility of a software defined network may cause problems. What happens when applications misconfigure or misallocate network resources, or when other faults arise within the abstracted infrastructure? Questions like these are the reason that Enterprise Networking Planet covers topics like fault testing in SDN environments, which Julie Knudson discussed just this month.

And what happens to IT and networking professionals when software defined networking transforms the data center? We hosted a debate on the topic this summer, with Marcus Austin opining that SDN will "annihilate the networking workforce" and Michael Bushong (of Plexxi) arguing that it won't. Whether SDN materially reduces the number of networking jobs to go around, one thing's clear: It will have a significant ripple effect on the enterprise. It's a lot for anyone, but especially CIOs, to consider.

At the end of the day (and the end of the year—where did all the time go?), SDN has overcome the first hurdle of any new technology. It's gone from an overhyped buzzword to a concept with concrete benefits, examples, and real-world deployments. SDN development continues apace, too.

If 2013 was the year of software defined networking, will 2014 be the year of software defined everything? Only time will tell, but based on the way things are going, that looks like a definite possibility.

Jude Chao

Jude Chao is executive editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.

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