Software-defined networking (SDN) “actually could be underhyped,” said Steve Alexander, Ciena‘s CTO, during his Interop keynote in New York on Wednesday. “I think it could be the most transformative thing we’ve come up with in decades.”
That’s not such a bold statement, when you think about it. SDN is certainly overhyped in the sense that any glimmer of virtualization gets called “SDN” (most famously, Oracle‘s acquisition of virtual-I/O startup Xsigo). But at the same time, there seems to be a consensus throughout the industry that what is called “SDN” today will be known as “normal networking” in the future.
SDN’s long-term potential was the underlying theme for Alexander and fellow keynoter John Chambers, CEO of Cisco. Both delivered what amounted to a joint SDN 101 lecture. They laid out the case for why SDN should be exciting to IT professionals, and both shared the belief that SDN is destined to become the norm for networking. “It will power our industry for the next decade,” Chambers said.
SDN and Openness
Naturally, each executive used his company’s philosophy to frame his talk. Alexander stressed the need to keep the network as open as possible while also adding the flexibility and programmability promised by SDN.
Ciena’s OPn architecture encompasses user applications but also includes the converged packet-optical network, which is Ciena’s market. Alexander described examples such as the ability to shunt a large flow, such as a 4K video stream, down to the optical network, so that its packets aren’t continually hitting routers and slowing down everybody else’s traffic.
While Cisco touched on similar ideas, Chambers mostly pointed out the reasons to believe in Cisco as a leader in this new transition — which, let’s face it, is the theme most of his keynotes circle back to. He talked about the importance of ASIC-driven infrastructure, an indirect jab at competitors’ use of merchant networking chips (although he did acknowledge at one point that Cisco’s game will be about merchant chips and ASICs, a statement Cisco didn’t always make so freely in the past). And he hammered on the perceived importance of building entire architectures, such as Cisco’s Open Network Environment (ONE), rather than focusing on particular product lines.
Chambers’ talk also confirmed that Cisco’s Nov. 6 press event, also taking place in New York, is going to be the launch of Insieme. He wasn’t so careless as to drop any real hints about the technology, but he did play it up in grand terms: “It’s going to be all around application-centric infrastructure, thinking data center at first but [also] all around the wide area network and all the way to the access infrastructure.”
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