The modern OpenFlow and Open Networking activities began a decade ago with Martin Casado’s work within the intelligence community implementing improved network security based on flow processing. When Martin went to Stanford for graduate studies he joined with Nick McKeown (his Stanford advisor) and Scott Shenker from UCB. All three were founders of Nicira.
New technology ventures are rarely just about the technology. McKeown, Shenker and Casado always had the bigger aspiration of disrupting the network industry, in part to bring the prices of network hardware way down but perhaps in part just to have a little fun at the expense of the network giant, Cisco.
A decade later it’s interesting and informative to assess the impact. Today it’s fair to say that OF and SDN products haven’t stolen much of Cisco’s revenue. It’s turned out that implementing real networks in OpenFlow is much more complicated than it seemed too many at first, and so far, there haven’t been any “killer apps” emerge to drive this kind of transition within the enterprise network market. So you might conclude that OpenFlow is yet another example of an academic idea that turned out to be less than had been hoped for.
But viewed another way, the OpenFlow effort has been wildly successful at disrupting the industry. OpenFlow created a lot of VC interest, and created startups that poached some of Cisco’s best talent, or so it seems. Then VMware’s recent acquisition of Nicira gave other “OpenFlow” ventures a big boost and did nothing good for Cisco’s market value, not to mention making our three amigos a lot of money. But perhaps most interesting of all is the Open Networking Foundation, which at recent count had 77 companies (including Cisco and the other network equipment incumbents) and hundreds of top networking people from those companies putting effort into ONF, all basically in support of the effort to disrupt the industry. Amazing! That’s sort of like one of the major PAC’s putting their money behind campaign finance reform! Theater and sociology play a major role in politics and revolution and from this perspective it’s literally hard to imagine how OpenFlow and Open Networking could have been more successful. The technology may still need a lot of development to be commercially viable but that doesn’t seem to have diminished the enthusiasm for it or the collective enthusiasm for tipping the network industry.
Power to the People!