Ciena CTO: SDN is Under-Hyped

Stephen Alexander, SVP and CTO at networking vendor Ciena, has an interesting viewpoint on Software Defined Networking (SDN). In his view, it isn’t hyped enough.

Alexander delivered his views on SDN during a keynote at the Interop NYC conference. The formal title of the keynote was “The Experience of Openness”; Alexander argued that networking success depends on openness and intelligence. In his view, openness in networking is about having no fences, no one-way signs, and no speed limits.

“Network capacity is not truly open like other resources,” Alexander said.

The widespread use of virtualization has opened up compute and storage capacity. Alexander wants networking to get to that place, too.

The key for networking isn’t just virtualization, though. Programmability and a platform that other things can be built on top of also matter. Speed is no longer a limiting factor, either.

“We have cracked the code of how to go fast,” Alexander said.


The building of programmable networks lies in the domain of Software Defined Networking, commonly referred to as SDN. Alexander sees SDN as a tremendous tool in building the networks of the future.

Ciena offers its own programmable network construct, OPn. That acronym stands for “Optical Packet to the ‘n’ scale.”

SDN is about taking back control in a way that makes the network an enabler, rather than a limiting factor. As a metaphor for how the programmable network should work, Alexander took a page from the smartphone revolution. He said that if you need a stopwatch feature today, you don’t go out and buy a new watch. Instead, you just get a stopwatch app for your phone. In his view, network platform programmability should work the same way.

“SDN is wildly hyped right now, but I think that it could actually be under-hyped,” Alexander said. “I really think that it can be the most transformative thing we’ve come across in decades.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

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