So.... the ONS was, in a nutshell, fascinating, eventful, thought provoking, inspiring, and perhaps most importantly - REAL!
I would like to start off with the following quote from the early morning session of day three, when a presenter was reflecting on the day two sessions -
"The world just changed"
Well, one could possibly think that after having sat through the day two sessions and having attended the many demo booths that were on display. There were some very exciting statements and announcements made during the presentation sessions. On both days, the conference room was packed full of clued-in attendees and the speakers were very fluent in describing their experiences and visions of software defined networks. Brocade was well represented in the general sessions and in the demo booth. Each time I went by our demo booth it was crowded with people! That was great to see. So, here's a recap of the event from my perspective.
Ken Cheng kicked off the social event on the evening of the 16th with an informal talk about how Brocade believes that Ethernet Fabrics will provide the underlying infrastructure for software defined networks in the data center. This talk also emphasized the importance of the open standards programmatic nature of solutions, such as OpenFlow. Our demo booth was up and operational well before that due to the hard work of folks from our SP product team (more on the demo later in this blog).
Day one included two tracks of tutorials: One track for Engineers and one track for Product Managers. These were very technical and covered a broad range of topics. The Engineer track was more focused on the what and how, while the Product Manager track seemed more focused on the what and why (if that makes any sense).
Day two started the general presentation sessions and it was full of stimulating talks! One thing I noticed fairly early on was the multiple references to how "fabrics" would be used as the underlying infrastructure for SDN overlays. (Hey, isn't that what Ken said the day before?). Some folks talked about fabrics in a more general sense, as in they could be a number of different networking technologies. Others were more specific by talking in terms of Ethernet fabrics. This latter definition clearly aligns with our perspective on this.
Some key observations and takeaways from this day are:
- Google has an OpenFlow enabled inter-DC backbone in production. This was a very interesting talk!
- NEC has several customers using OpenFlow enabled solutions in production. They also hinted at a future OpenFlow enabled telecom carrier solution coming soon.
- Yahoo and others talked about how the software defined network framework should be leveraged for enhanced network operations and management capabilities. For example, in hyper-scale datacenters with tons of interconnecting links amongst a ton of switches, enhanced visibility into this switched infrastructure is *critical* in order to deploy, scale and operate such a massively connected network. So, the need to pull or retrieve information and state from the network is as important as the ability to push or provision information and state into the network.
- Verizon talked about how OpenFlow will be solving some real problems for them, particularly around service velocity and flexibility. They also discussed how they are collaborating with other technology companies in a project to demonstrate OpenFlow solutions.
- One key point that was made during the day was: To ensure that the successful evolution of OpenFlow and SDN continues, it needs to remain open! While this may seem obvious to most, it is not obvious to all. The evolution from a closed, vertically integrated network system to an open, horizontally integrated network system is in its early stages of development. Innovation will happen at magnitudes of scale in terms of time only if it remains open. Enough said.
- The day ended with a panel discussion of tools that are being developed for SDNs. Without proper tools and OAM capabilities, SDN deployments will be greatly hampered particularly at the scale of what is being envisioned today. This dovetailed nicely with some of the earlier presentations.
Day three started off with a reflection of day two takeaways. During this open reflection, I couldn't help but think back to the day I attended the first MPLS panel at NANOG 15 in Denver, Colorado; circa 1999. Most of us there at the time felt that MPLS was going to be "big", but we didn't know how big or exactly how it would change networking. I think that's how I felt about SDN during this event. It's here, it's real and it’s evolving very rapidly right before our very eyes. This is an exciting time to be in networking!
Some key observations and takeaways from this day are:
- NTT started off with a discussion about their vision of SDN and to set proper expectations for everyone. Among the points made are that software defined networks can:
- Shorten the time to market for solutions and services
- Provide service differentiation for carriers such as NTT
- Reduce CAPEX and OPEX for carriers like NTT
- There was then a multitude of talks about how SDNs can solve real problems in Enterprise networks. So, software defined networking is not just applicable to service providers and data centers, but it is as applicable to enterprise networks.
- There was also a multitude of talks about SDN and service providers. There were some very valuable points made during this panel. One thing that was echoed a few times is that during this network transformation we are undergoing, a "hybrid" solution appears to be the most pragmatic path forward. By hybrid, I'm speaking about a model of integration where current switching and routing products interwork with OpenFlow to provide software defined networks. In other words, switches and routers from existing vendors are not going to be replaced with merchant silicon switches being programmed by OpenFlow. This falls right in line with our position on this topic. I mean, why not let switches and routers do what they do best and allow OpenFlow to programmatically identify and re-direct specific flows for special handling? Makes sense to me.
- The day and event wrapped up with a panel discussion about SDN opportunities and challenges. This was also very enlightening and I found the talk from LightSpeed Venture quite interesting. They clearly stated that this SDN evolution is in its early phases, as seen from their perspective as a venture capitalist firm. I couldn't agree more.
To recap one key observation that spanned both of the general presentation days, the network must become simpler, more reliable, and more scalable while also being easier to provision and operate. To accomplish this, more tools and capabilities are needed to provide better visibility of what is happening inside the network. This additional visibility can then be presented to the application layer of the software defined network. The application layer can then proactively (and reactively, when needed) re-program the network to ensure the SLAs of the offered services are met. Another way of saying this is the industry needs to “unlock the network” to fully enable software defined networking.
I hope this provides a glimpse into some of the highlights of the general presentation sessions. At our demo booth, we were asked a ton of questions about our OpenFlow implementation on our NetIron products, and which types of use cases we have discussed with our customers. We also provided lots of information on how we have successfully demonstrated interoperability with a variety of controllers, referencing the recent ONF OpenFlow PlugFest. It’s estimated that roughly 50% of the people who came to our booth were from the research community. We were actually given a "shout-out" during the general session recap for our OpenFlow-enabled demo that featured and MLXe and CES. The MLXe is a 100GbE line-rate platform that supports OpenFlow. I should also mention that our products were also part of the NEC demo booth.
To wrap up my impression of this summit, I have to say it was great to see so many key industry people in attendance; customers, vendors, implementers and visionaries. I believe that's one metric that reveals how real SDN is. Not only were there 100s of attendee's and 10s of booths, but many key influencers in the networking industry were in attendance. Compared to the 1st ONS last year, it was amazing to see the growth in terms of interest and participation, and that the excitement continues to accelerate!
So, that’s my perspective on the 2nd annual ONS. In summary, I'm psyched about the event, the outcome, the reality that SDN is here, and most importantly, about the future of SDN. Oh, and I should remind everyone that although OpenFlow could be thought of as merely the southbound programmatic interface between the controller and the network, it is one of the key enablers of SDN, so its importance cannot be understated.