Matt Davy Leaves InCNTRE to Join an SDN Startup
Summary: One of OpenFlow and SDN’s biggest supporters says the technology is real even if the hype is overdone — and talks a bit about his new startup job.
A little birdie (no, not Twitter) told us that a career change was afoot for Matt Davy at InCNTRE. Intrigued about where he was going and why, especially after he helped build InCNTRE into a real SDN powerhouse, we took the opportunity grab him for an interview—it’s been some time since we last chatted with him and in addition to learning where he was off to, we also wanted to get his point of view on his view of SDN evolution for 2012 and his predictions for 2013.
SDNCentral: As an SDN veteran and the architect behind one of the earliest large-scale deployments of OpenFlow, what major changes have you seen in the SDN market since we last spoke?
Matt: “I think the definition of NFV (network functions virtualization) and the emerging viewpoints on how it should relate to SDN has been an important development over the past 6 months or so. It’s been very cool to watch this move rapidly from early brainstorming sessions with various thought leaders in the industry, to the publishing of the NFV whitepaper and now vendor announcements. In addition to being interesting from the perspective of a major shift in network architecture, I think it also marks the move of SDN into the carrier space. And, yes, this means that I think NFV and SDN are two parts of the same puzzle.
I think the other notable development has been the emergence of several user groups focused on SDN. This is important because it shows that enterprises are interested and are rapidly coming up to speed on SDN. As more production deployments become public this year, this will drive more lab deployments and SDN will accelerate into the mainstream.”
SDNCentral: Of those, which do you think will have the most significant impact, why?
Matt: “While I think NFV and the interest in SDN among carriers is interesting, the SDN user groups are more focused on enterprises and I think that could have the most impact on the industry. I think SDN is going to have a huge impact on enterprise networks over the next few years, including data center, campus and remote offices, and the interest in these groups marks the beginning of that very important transition.”
SDNCentral: Do you think SDN is overhyped? Why?
Matt: “Absolutely. I’m not saying SDN won’t be transformative, I think it will be, but there’s a big gap between the hype coming out of the valley and the reality on the ground. A survey published in Information Week last fall showed that only 9% of companies have SDN in testing and only 17% understand it in detail. I think there is great potential for SDN to create an open ecosystem that will lead to positive transformation in networking, but I’m concerned that the redefinition and spinning of SDN that is happening ahead of market awareness has the risk of diminishing it’s impact.”
SDNCentral: What’s the biggest current confusion or myth in the SDN world? Has it been debunked?
Matt: “Netconf, XMPP and various scripting interfaces into the the distributed control plane on switches and routers is not SDN. That’s not to say they don’t have value. I was using scripting interfaces to automate changes to the control plane on routers back in 1996 when I started in the industry. I think that’s great and has been an important tool for network engineers over the past 20 years. But that’s not SDN. SDN is about centralizing the control of forwarding across the network using an open interface.”
SDNCentral: Do you think SDN is going to be deployable by the vast majority of network engineers anytime soon? What are the major hindrances to mainstream adoption?
Matt: “I think the first step will be education. There is a lot of confusion being created right now and network engineers, who are really busy keeping their networks running, need some help sorting out what SDN is and how it can help them build better networks.
Many of the early SDN deployments we’ve heard about have been roll-your-own solutions with custom software development. While many companies look at these and think they could never do something like this, I’ve been on the inside of two such deployments and have seen that it just doesn’t require that much work. For example, the SDN software for Internet2’s nationwide SDN backbone was largely developed by 2 or 3 key developers over about a year. There are numerous companies putting many times this effort into building SDN software right now, so I’m confident there will be mainstream adoption. I also see an emerging market for consulting and development shops that can help companies roll their own SDN solutions which I find extremely interesting.”
SDNCentral: In 2013, what are your expectations in terms of the state-of-the-art in SDN?
Matt: “I think 2013 is going to be even more interesting than 2012. We’ll see more people talking about their production deployments and many more companies trying it out in their labs. I think the majority of vendors will make the shift from OpenFlow 1.0 to 1.3 this year which will bring much more functionality. Also, if you keep in mind the timeline for developing a new ASIC, I think we could start seeing the first new ASICs come into the market that were designed after OpenFlow was developed which could be very important.
While 2012 was clearly the year of hype for SDN, I think 2013 will be the year it breaks into the mainstream and that will be very exciting to see.”
SDNCentral: What would be your boldest prediction for what we will see in SDN in 2013?
Matt: “SDN will break out of the data center and start to achieve meaningful adoption in the enterprise and carrier markets.”
SDNCentral: We understand that you’re making a career change as of today, can you share something about that?
Matt: “Anyone who has heard me talk about SDN knows I’m pretty passionate about SDN and the benefits it can bring to networking. My goal from the beginning has always been to make SDN successful in any way I could.
Early on I spent a lot of time evangelizing SDN among university CIOs, IT directors and network engineers. I firmly believe that strong collaborations between computer science researchers and network engineers at universities will be key to network innovation going forward.
As I saw OpenFlow start to gain traction with vendors, I could see that interoperability testing would be key to the success of an open SDN ecosystem. That led to the creation of InCNTRE which is centered around an SDN interoperability lab, but also focuses on building collaborations between researchers and network engineers to advance networking.
In just 2 years, InCNTRE has become a recognized leader in SDN testing, training and research. InCNTRE has 12 networking vendors participating in its SDN testing consortium, it leads the ONF’s Testing and Interoperability Working Group, and organizes and hosts the ONF’s PlugFest events. InCNTRE also has a very successful network research program centered around SDN and is the leader in providing high-quality, hands-on SDN training to networking professionals.
With all of those programs established and SDN moving forward rapidly, the next logical place for me to contribute was from within the industry. As you might expect, I’ve had many opportunities over the last two years to make the jump into industry. But this opportunity was one where I felt I could have a meaningful impact on taking SDN to the next level.”
SDNCentral: In your new job, what will you be focused on? What are you excited about?
Matt: “I’ve accepted the principal solutions architect position with a new SDN company focused on enterprise campus solutions called Tallac Networks. What immediately interested me in Tallac is that the founders have a very long and impressive track record in enterprise networking and that we share the same vision for SDN and how to make it successful. In many ways this is a natural progression from what I’ve already been doing at InCNTRE in terms of leveraging my deep understanding of SDN technologies and products to help enterprises realize the value of SDN through training and consulting. From my earliest experiences with SDN 3 years ago, I’ve always believed SDN was going to transform the way enterprises build and operate networks. I think Tallac is uniquely positioned to realize that vision and I’m very excited to be joining the team.”
SDNCentral: We’re excited for you too! We wish you the very best in your new job and expect to see continuing major contributions from you in the SDN space. Thank you for your time!
Check out more about InCNTRE on SDNCentral: (our favorite is an Interview with Matt Davy, InCNTRE’s Executive)