There’s this thing called Software Defined Networking (SDN) generating quite a lot of noise in the networking technology market right now. PR and marketing people love new buzzwords and acronyms, but what’s great about SDN is that the engineers dig it too.
This week I’d promise I’d check in on SDN. I have a couple interviews lined up. Today’s interview is with Craig Matsumoto, my former colleague at Light Reading. Craig is a great reporter and editor, with added bonus that he was educated as an engineer, so he really gets this stuff. He’s been covering networking for more than 15 years and he’s now the Managing Editor at SDNcentral, a popular Web hub among the SDN set.
While there is a lot of hype in SDN, the potential for changing the hierarchy of networking is real because the concept revolves around shifting the control of the network from hardware to software, threatening a lot of big incumbents such as Cisco (CSCO) and Juniper Networks (JNPR) who have large installed bases of proprietary hardware.
Think of SDN as the virtual remote control of the global network. I’ve dumbed it down here in a guide that hopefully even your grandmother could understand. But I don’t profess to be an SDN expert. At any rate, Craig and I talked about SDN, and here’s what we came up with:
Rayno Report: So Craig, I see you got a nice new gig. How did this happen?
Craig Matsumoto: They called me up.
RR: That’s always good.
CM: Yeah, I was happy about that. I was covering SDN for about a year. They gave me a call and said they were looking for an editorial person. I was going into mostly SDN anyway, it was becoming my beat. I liked that the company is small, it has that early Light Reading feeling.
RR: Tell us more about SDNCentral and who runs it.
CM: The actual company is Wiretap Ventures. Matt Palmer and Roy Chua started it as a directory to understand the market and attract clients. When they added a blog, they started to draw an audience.
RR: So, what do you do?
CM: I am going to write every day. I’m also managing the guest posts. Some of it is paid and some of it is volunteer. I will be editing those and probably organizing all of that.
RR: So, I know you are tired of defining SDN, but can you define it for us?
CM: SDN means the separation of the control and data planes. So if you tell your grandma that, she’ll know exactly what it is. But I think of it as the next wave of the network.
So, [SDN software] will streamline everything about how the network works. That’s the idea, anyway, I don’t know how long it will take.
RR: Where do you think we are now?
We are at the end of the beginning. You here stories about Google using SDN on a big scale, but it won’t be mainstream for another year.
RR: So is like other networking growth spurts, such as optical and DWDM?
CM: I think so. But everything’s in software and everybody remembers the dot-com valuations [and how that ended]. So people are cautious and careful about putting up large private company valuations. Nicira got bought for $1B but nobody else got bought for that much.
RR: Does that mean you think $1B was astronomical?
CM: At the time I did, but they were bidding against Cisco (CSCO), so they had to do it. I wrote a story about whether it was worth it. So far it has been.
RR: Can you give us some other promising companies in this area?
CM: BigSwitch had been one — but there are a lot more question marks now. I don’t know if Plexxi is hot or we just talk about them a lot. They have this optical networking model for the data center. They are doing DWDM rings in the center.
RR: Didn’t we used to call that metro optical networking?
CM: Yeah. They are closer to a “god box” kind of company, it’s a DWDM switch and networking management software, coupled together. [Editor’s notes: DWDM stands for Dense Wave Division Multiplexing, an optical networking technology that can slice up data streams into different wavelength and send it across the same connection at the same time. And I’m not sure anybody really knows what a “god box” is.]
RR: Would grandma understand what that means?
CM: Absolutely. No, I’m not even sure what that is.
RR: Other startups?
CM: Most of the other interesting startups have already been bought. I’m waiting for another wave of them to emerge.
RR: What were some of the other big deals?
CM: Juniper acquired Contrail. Contrail was interesting because they were working with service providers where as most of the others are working on data center. [Editor’s note: Juniper bought Contrail for $176 million just a year after it was founded.]
RR: What should we look for next?
CM: VMworld, which is coming up [next week]. That should be huge because VMware bought Nicira a year ago. They have talked a little bit about the product, but I would expect a big integration story. They have to say something about that there. It’s interesting because VMware has become a networking company. They are going to be doing the kind of networking that Cisco will be doing some years from that. They’ve gotten ahead of the game.
RR: Cisco has a minority stake in VMWare and I imagine they had a chance to buy it early on — did they screw that up?
CM: Sure, in hindsight. But who knew VMware would be this big.
RR: Apparently VMware did.
CM: Yes, and EMC.
RR: Good one. [EMC owns 80% of VMWare]. So, now that you are there, what are the plans for SDNCentral in terms the expansion?
CM: No plans to expand the staff right away. There are no big ongoing expansion. We are putting on the Software defined data center symposium.
RR: Well good look Craig. This was a great primer. Thanks for your time.
CM: Thank you.