Prior to [OpenFlow], we've simply never had a programmatic way to reach deep enough in to enterprise-grade networking devices to do what we need to do. Configuring a network, to us, is modifying the inputs used in network algorithms imprinted deep in embedded hardware and software. Programming a network, which is what we need to do, implies relying on these algorithms most of the time but over-riding them every once in a while. A simple case in point: our virtual networks don't need spanning tree.
Rather than creating a new paradigm, Big Switch Networks believes there is an opportunity to slip in a virtualization layer underneath the existing one. The company further states: "As new applications, new departments or new classes of traffic emerge, we believe that a networking team should have the choice of whether to manage that via the familiar tools of the underlying physical network or via those same familiar tools applied to a virtual network on top."
As an explanation, the company defines network virtualization by calling out three fundamental principles:
- Hosts on the network see the virtual topology, not the underlying physical topology.
- Application or department-level admins manage their virtual topology, not the underlying physical topology.
- The central team can add capacity when needed by scaling out the underlying physical topology without impacting the virtual topologies on top.
Big Switch Networks may have the juice needed to pull off its stated mission. But to give it that extra nudge, the company has joined up with the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), a nonprofit organization committed to furthering the OpenFlow standard and other software-defined networking (SDN) technologies as a way to speed innovation in the networking industry.
The ONF was established last month by six leading companies that own and operate some of the largest networks in the world: Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon, and Yahoo. Joining these six founding companies in creating ONF are 17 member companies, including major equipment vendors, networking and virtualization software suppliers, and chip technology providers.
Indeed, it sounds like networking may well be on the path to becoming "interesting" again. In the meantime, we'll have to watch and see how SDN, OpenFlow, and network virtualization start showing up in our networks.
This article, "Networking may be on the path to becoming 'interesting' again," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.