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OpenFlow opens new doors for networks

Jim Duffy, Network World | April 14, 2011
With a new industry organization to promote it, routing protocol OpenFlow is about to give users unprecedented ease of control over the way their networks operate.

Programmability was problematic before because vendors opened up their control plane functionality on routers and switches to varying degrees. Programmability was vendor-specific and device-specific, Shenker says.

ONF serves as a vehicle to ensure that this programmability remains consistent, easy to use and easy to access across various network devices from various vendors.

"We needed to standardize OpenFlow" for this to occur, Shenker says. "There needs to be an industrial-strength standards body. A few vendors offer it now, but there will be more by the end of the year."

Other observers feel external programming of routers and switches through OpenFlow and SDN could help IT shops better manage their data centers. In a post on his "OpenSource Fact and Fiction" blog, Alan Shimel writes that it could make it easier to traffic around hardware failures.

"It could also be used to allow energy savings by identifying underused devices and shut them down when they are not needed," Shimel blogs.

He notes that with the strong backing, its chance of success might seem pretty high. But Shimel also states that other widely supported standards efforts have been derailed before.

"Microsoft and even Cisco are well known for 'embracing and extending' such standards to make them less than globally interoperable," Shimel blogs. "However, with so many lined up behind this one, I don't think that will be the case here. At least I hope not."

OpenFlow was demonstrated late last year at the ninth GENI Engineering Conference (GEC9) in Washington, D.C. NEC was showing off its implementation, and an OpenFlow switch startup, Big Switch Networks, recently received almost $14 million in funding.

An open-source switch company called Pica8 also plans to include it in its products for data centers and cloud-computing environments. Those are two areas that could benefit immediately from OpenFlow, Shenker says, due to the proliferation of virtual machines in those environments.

"The data center market will be first, where people have the most pain," he says. "It's a place where this technology is needed the most."


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