SDN Technology Coming From Large and Emerging Players

While reports on software-defined networking usually focus on Cisco, Broadcom and VMware — as I did in last week’s blog — there is a growing legion of SDN products coming from a range of other companies.

Enterprise vendors including HP and IBM have entered the SDN fray. Both companies released OpenFlow-based controllers in the past month even as they struggle to maintain revenues in their traditional enterprise portfolios. Adding a controller to their OpenFlow portfolios is a key step forward in that it provides a means for applications to set the terms of their own networking requirements at a single point, rather than having to constantly negotiate for resources at the switch level.

Of course, the switch itself still needs to be SDN-compatible, and companies like Mellanox are hoping that enterprises won’t adhere strictly to the all-in-one solutions hitting the channel. The company recently released the newest SwitchX device, the SwitchX-2, that not only supports leading SDN controllers but the VXLAN and MVGRE overlay network formats as well. The switch comes in 36-port 40/56 GbE and 64-port 10 GbE L2, L2+ and L3 configurations, as well as 48-port 10 GbE and 12-port 40 GbE top-of-rack versions. It’s also available in blade form for network fabric deployments, and includes the company’s Unified Fabric Manager software for tasks like load balancing, virtualization and network scaling.

Other firms are focusing specifically on the software side of SDN, devising new ways to manage and provision virtual/logical resources in fast-moving environments. Vyatta Inc., for example, just released the Vyatta Network OS 6.5 software, which adds techniques like policy-based routing and Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) multipathing to enhance network performance and flexibility. At the same time, the company has added Hyper-V support to allow for a more streamlined network architecture in heterogeneous virtual environments.

In a way, then, SDN is shaping up to be a classic choice between the all-in-one solutions of the top vendors, which are usually easier to deploy and manage, vs. the piecemeal, multivendor approach that promises greater flexibility and innovative new features.

However, integrated or not, this isn’t the kind of technology you just install and watch as it goes to work. Networking is the lifeblood of the datacenter, after all, so it will require a bit of trial and error to ensure that software in particular is hitting on all cylinders before it can be entrusted to vital data.

The coming year will be devoted largely to evaluation of the competing systems and protocols, and it will be up to both large and small developers to prove the validity of their approach before the real work to devise an abstract network infrastructure can begin.

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