A big theme of the Rayno Report is innovation in the connected world. That is, how do our network connections create value. We have seen this over time with the explosion of LAN networking in the early 1990s, the advent of the Internet in the late 1990s and through today, social networking, and the advancing next phase of Machine to Machine communications, now known among PR and marketing mavens the world over as “M2M.”
But all of this is the same thing: It’s about people (and things) talking to one another. It’s the concept of adding value with the network goes back to Metcalfe’s Law, named after Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe, which said the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users. In other words, as you add more users, you exponentially create more value. This law seems to grow more powerful over time.
One of the next great enabling technologies of the connected revolution will be Software Defined Networking (SDN). Yes, it is much hyped. But I think the hype is relevant. That is because SDN is one of the biggest paradigm shifts in networking in decades. I would say it’s as big as the client/server revolution in the early 1990s, which gave birth to companies like Cisco (CSCO) and Microsoft MSFT), which turned out to be fairly good investments. So, here on the Rayno Report, I’m declaring the next week or so SDN week. We’ll have at least two interviews and three pieces of content on SDN (not including this one).
At this point in the article, half of you are nodding your heads in agreement and the other half are saying, “What the hell is he talking about?” Let me address that. If you don’t know what SDN is — here’s a brief primer, boiled down for grandmothers around the world:
- SDN means that networking hardware or devices will be increasingly controlled by software that is separated from the device. In other worlds, you should be able to program your toaster with an iPad.
- SDN, in engineering terms, separates the control plane and the data plane. So how to explain this to grandma? If the toaster example doesn’t work for you, I like to think of it in terms of television programming and the remote control. SDN is the remote control of networking hardware. TV programming has been removed from the TV itself.
- More on the television paradigm: In “old days,” you had to walk to the TV and mechanically change the channel with a dial. This was incredibly inefficient. As televisions have evolved and remote controls evolved, channel changing has become “unhooked” from the TV itself. First it moved to the remote, and now it’s moving to a virtual remotes (tablets, iPhones) that control programming that can come from anywhere (satellite, Internet, storage), not even necessarily your TV.
- At its core, SDN (and remote controls) are about networking intelligence. If the software is moved to a remote control that can sense and manage many devices, it becomes more intelligent about the availability of all resources, much as your iPad is now much better at finding, managing, and understanding content, more so than the 1970-era television.
- Implementation is more complicated. In order to execute it correctly, hardware manufacturers must agree standards so that open SDN software platforms can work on as many devices as possible. The value is added by the sheer number of devices, applications, and data that can be added to the network. But hardware manufacturers will be resistant to this, because keeping customers locked in a proprietary platform is good for business (i.e. Cisco (CSCO) and Juniper (JNPR) have a lot to lose from universal remotes).
- We are in the early days of this revolution. Most great networking revolutions have taken about 10 years to unfold. We are probably in year 2 or so.
As you can see, I like to think of SDN as the universal remote control to the global network. It’s a remote-control so powerful that it will enable service providers, companies, and individuals to build and access networks that are more intelligent than ever before.
But other people know far more about SDN than I do, so in the coming weeks I’ll introduce you to some ideas out there in SDN world. Check back on Monday for the first in our SDN series.