Because our industry is full of naysayers, let’s do a preemptive strike on the negatives. Is HP’s new SDN solution available now? No. It is in beta and will not likely be ready for general release until mid-next year. Will HP’s SDN solution work with all HP networking devices? No. Twenty-three OpenFlow-enabled HP switch models are included. Will HP’s SDN solution include networking devices from other vendors? No. Testing will focus on the now 23 HP OpenFlow-enabled devices. (Note: In all fairness to HP, OpenFlow-enabled devices are few and far between in production networks. Don’t blame HP for not looking for needles in haystacks.) Has HP got this SDN thing all figured out with respect to performance… and reliability… and security… and interoperability… and manageability… and all those other things that make our networks whole? No. But then again, who has? And isn’t that what beta testing is all about? Is HP providing a wealth of killer SDN apps as part of its new solution? No. Announced are three diverse and potentially high-impact apps. As for more apps… Stay tuned. The beta will absorb and prove out others as they come – and come they will.
So what’s the big deal about HP’s SDN announcements this week? Here’s a quick Top 5 list from my view:
1. They involve real products operating in real networks. With a no-charge software update, in-place HP switches can be migrated to this new SDN model. Update the switch software and install HP’s SDN controller and you have a functioning SDN environment – no programs to write, no wholesale swap-outs to make, no third party dependencies.
2. They enable incremental adoption. HP’s new SDN solution can be deployed as an “SDN Island” in a sea of traditional non-SDN networking segments and devices. You want to try out SDN without a complete network overhaul? Go ahead. Apply it in your data center… or your campus… or your private cloud. Network advancements offered in manageable increments are always a good thing.
3. They involve both HP and third party applications. HP isn’t just throwing out its controller and APIs and hoping people work together to strengthen enforcement and speed reaction. Another app comes from CERN and focuses on load balancing. In essence, it offers load balancing for load balancers – an important function in this day of Big Data where east-west traffic is creating far more problems in data centers than north-south end user exchanges.
4. They include both product AND SDN-focused support services. In the early stages of adoption, SDN success will hinge as much on process as it does product. SDN introduces new technologies, new design considerations, new management responsibilities, and yes, even new problems. Suppliers that make it easy to understand, conceive, deploy, and tune their respective SDN solution will not only drive success for themselves, but also the SDN movement overall. Here, HP is offering pre- and post-deployment services (e.g., staff training, baseline evaluations, and network optimization) that will give its solution the best chance to deliver on its promise.
5. The heart of HP’s new SDN solution – Virtual Application Networks SDN Controller – provides for some nice configuration flexibility. This is a must for SDN environments. Just as no two networks look alike, no two SDNs will look alike either. The controller is available as a software package and as a software/hardware system. Given this, you can surmise that the controller hardware is a rather straightforward server design. At least, for now. who knows what future SDN requirements hold in store for controller design? For high availability configurations, multiple control load an be used in an active-active state, load sharing in normal circumstances and failing over when bad things happen. In addition, HP’s SDN controller can take on multiple application personalities simultaneously. While the betas will aid capacity analysis in this scenario, the ability to readily serve new applications as needs arise – and as applications roll out – will be very beneficial to the operator looking to do more and more with their SDN.
For all those hoping for the best from SDN solutions and suppliers, feel free to add to the list. And for you naysayers, we can always do with a few more criticisms. The SDN movement is the better off for it, quite frankly. Just beware if you’re an SDN supplier looking to throw stones at HP. People in glass houses…