If you’re relatively new to software-defined networking (SDN), you aren’t alone.
For many major carriers and enterprises, 2014 has been SDN’s proof-of-concept year, with network administrators kicking the tires in test environments. The technology is no longer theoretical, but in many cases it’s not yet in deployment.
For readers who are trying to catch up before production deployments begin to heat up in 2015, we’ve assembled this handy guide to the key SDN stories of the past year.
OpenDaylight: One Controller to Rule Them All
For OpenDaylight, the open source platform for SDN controllers, 2014 has been a year of big milestones and a few setbacks. In February, the project released Hydrogen, the first version of its controller software. That was quickly followed by Helium, the September release intended as a production-ready code base.
Initially, some participants viewed the project with open skepticism, fearing that Cisco would co-opt the process by either steering the standard toward its own product or stalling it long enough for a Cisco alternative to take hold. Attitudes have warmed, however, and several vendors stepped up their investment in OpenDaylight substantially in 2014. Intel, Dell, and HP all boosted their participation to the half-million-dollar platinum membership level, gaining seats on the project’s board and technical steering committee. The platform began seeing real-world deployments as well — serving as the new foundation for ConteXtream’s network virtualization service, for example
There were growing pains, too, including Netdump, the vulnerability that went unpatched for nearly four months after a security researcher reported it. But with the level of resources that industry heavies have already sunk into the project, expect to see more momentum from OpenDaylight in 2015.
Cisco ACI vs. VMware NSX: Competing Visions
VMware and Cisco have two of the leading platforms in enterprise network virtualization — and they couldn’t be more different.
VMware’s NSX, on the other hand, is all about the software. The network virtualization and security platform builds network connections using the physical ports on other companies’ routers and switches.
For one customer’s take on the two platforms, check out our Q&A with cloud hosting provider FireHost. (Short version: both are lacking.)
Plenty of other companies offer SDN and network virtualization options, of course, but Cisco and VMware are widely considered the two biggest, figuratively. Their respective platforms are competing for the same types of customers, but since both are relatively new, expect the battle to heat up from here.
OpenFlow: Original SDN Protocol Faces New Competition
OpenFlow, a protocol that allows central administration of a switch or router’s forwarding logic, is the grandpappy of SDN standards. Since releasing version 1.1 in 2011, the Open Networking Foundation has updated the protocol several times, holding steady at OpenFlow 1.4 since October 2013.
RELATED: What is OpenFlow?
OpenFlow’s future as the dominant SDN protocol is far from assured, though. In April, Cisco released OpFlex, a competing southbound protocol for the networking giant’s ACI ecosystem. The protocols differ in important ways, with OpFlex leaving much of the forwarding intelligence on router hardware — those big, smart boxes that Cisco has traditionally relied on to drive revenue.
For a good introduction to the latest developments in OpenFlow, check out our recent Q&A with Open Networking Foundation Executive Director Dan Pitt, and this compilation of our on-scene reporting from the 2014 SDN & OpenFlow World Congress.
Open Compute Project: Facebook Gives Up the Goods
Spearheaded by Facebook, the Open Compute Project would stand out conspicuously in a lineup with the other open source projects we’ve mentioned. Instead of software and protocols, Open Compute is all about freely distributing hardware design specs — specifically, the server and switching gear that power Facebook’s hyperscale data centers.
Why would Facebook give up its secret hardware sauce? Simply put, it wants to generate a market of buyers and suppliers for the gear it wants, driving costs down. If Open Compute also drives wider and more efficient internet connectivity, all the better for Facebook, which aims to serve up ads to as many users as possible.
The SDN connection: Web-scale companies like Facebook and Google have led the way in SDN for the data center, chasing faster and more agile network architectures for their massive server farms. That makes programmability and virtualization core tenants of the Open Compute specs — an increasing cause for concern at big-box hardware vendors.
For more on Open Compute, check out our report from the 2014 Open Compute Project summit.