OpenFlow Inventor Martin Casado on SDN, VMware, and Software Defined Networking Hype [VIDEO]

Casado details the origins of SDN, wonders what SDN means today, and plans to change the laws of physics in the future.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Apr 29, 2013
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Software Defined Networking (SDN) hype is everywhere in the networking market today. The hype cycle began with Martin Casado's thesis work at Stanford in 2005. Casado went on to found Nicira Networks, a company acquired by VMware in 2012 for $1.26 billion.

In an exclusive interview with Enterprise Networking Planet, Casado discusses the origins of OpenFlow, the present nature of SDN, and the future of networking itself.

SDN and OpenFlow: Beginnings

"SDN and OpenFlow came out of work we were doing at Stanford," Casado said.

OpenFlow, one of the defining protocols of SDN, was actually a byproduct of the open-source NOX controller. NOX was built as a way to enable controllers that could talk to and manage switches.

Casado worked alongside a number of individuals at Stanford, including Nick McKeown and Scott Shenker. McKeown and Shenker joined with Casado to form Nicira Networks in 2007. Guido Appenzeller later also became part of the OpenFlow effort at Stanford. Appenzeller went on to start Big SwitcMartin Casado VMwareh Networks.

What is SDN Anyways?

While the work that Casado began at Stanford has helped to create the entire SDN revolution, he's no longer sure what the term actually means in the marketplace today.

"I actually don't know what SDN means anymore, to be honest," Casado said.

Casado noted that the term SDN was coined in 2009, and at the time, it did mean something fairly specific.

"Now it is just being used as a general term for networking, like all networking is SDN," Casado said. "SDN is now just an umbrella term for cool stuff in networking."

Open vSwitch

Casado's company, Nicira, is also one of the original developers of the Open vSwitch technology. Open vSwitch enables a virtual switch inside of software and has been part of the mainline Linux kernel since the Linux 3.3 release in March 2012.

Nicira built its own NVP technology, which uses vSwitch to create network virtualization.

The Open vSwitch project is popular in the open-source world, with over 100 contributors in the last year. Casado stressed that the evolution of Open vSwitch is happening as part of the open-source project. He refuted a claim, made by Big Switch Networks, that Nicira is building proprietary patches for Open vSwitch.

"It's actually not true that we have proprietary extensions," Casado said. "We use Open vSwitch, the open-source version, just like anybody else."

That doesn't mean that Nicira doesn't have its own proprietary code. Casado said it has its own closed source code as well, though that's separate.

Big Switch recently announced its own open-source virtual switching technology, SwitchLight. Casado doesn't see Switchlight as a competitor to Nicira NVP, though it might be competitive with Open vSwitch.

OpenDaylight

Multiple vendors, including VMware and Nicira, have recently joined together in a new open-source effort called OpenDaylight.

Casado explained that to date, a lot of work has been done on open standards and open interfaces for SDN. Open vSwitch provides the switch, controllers provide management, and the OpenStack Quantum project helps enable open networking access in the cloud.

Efforts are now in place to build federation across SDN controllers. Casado's interest in OpenDaylight is about ensuring that the new framework for SDN is compatible with Open vSwitch, OpenStack Quantum, and controller federation.

VMware and Skynet

Casado's life changed when Nicira was acquired by VMware for $1.26 billion last year.

While the startup life was a good place for Casado for a while, he commented that being part of a bigger company that can push technology into the market truly helps fulfill his ultimate vision.

"My goal in creating Nicira was to change networking," Casado said. "It's very difficult to do that alone, and now I'm working with the best company in the world to make it happen."

VMware as a company is pursuing its broad vision of the Software Defined Data Center. It's a vision that is about untethering workload mobility from hardware infrastructure.

The Software Defined Datacenter is not necessarily about replacing humans with some form of autonomic intelligence: it's no SkyNet.

"The goal is, how do you make networking have the properties of software systems as far as innovation, provisioning speed, and upgrade speed," Casado said. "You want networks to be as flexible and as agile as compute is. That's not the case today, but that's where we're going."

Watch the full video interview with Martin Casado below.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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