Interop Panel Tackles SDN

LAS VEGAS – A Broadcom chip guy, a Microsoft software guy, and a VMware virtualization guy walk onto a stage. What do you get?

That’s what the capacity crowd at Interop found out in a keynote session on Wednesday. Martin Casado, chief architect for networking at VMware; Rajiv Ramaswami, executive vice president and general manager of the infrastructure and networking group at Broadcom; and Rajeev Nagar, group program manager for Windows core networking at Microsoft, took the stage to discuss and debate SDN’s present and future.

One of the questions that the panel addressed was where SDN fits in and where it’s needed. The panel agreed that it makes sense for large deployments.

“Scale changes everything,” Microsoft’s Nagar said. “When you’re managing exabytes of data and you’re provisioning thousands of networks a day, you run into interesting challenges.”

While some see SDN as a new evolution that threatens existing networks, VMware’s Martin Casado disagrees. Casado is a key figure in the SDN movement. His 2005 Stanford thesis led to his original build of OpenFlow and the Nox SDN controller. Casado went on to co-found Nicira, which was acquired by VMware for $1.2 billion in 2012. Enterprise Networking Planet interviewed Casado in April.

“There is a lot of talk about the threat of SDN, but there has been so much change over the last decade already. and we have some capabilities already,” Casado said during the panel. “Its living among us already.”

Casado added that SDN doesn’t make electrons go faster. Rather, he stressed that the value proposition of doing networking in software derives from speed and agility.

Network-aware applications

Broadcom’s Ramaswami takes a more network-centric viewpoint.sdn roundtable

“SDN first is about exposing what you have in the network, then it’s about what you can run on top,” he commented.

That comment led to a discussion on how much awareness applications actually need of the network.

Casado’s viewpoint? The app doesn’t necessarily need to know everything about the underlying network.

“I do think some interaction between apps and network is good, but the less the app has to know about the network, the better it is for everyone,” he said.

Microsoft’s Nagar disagreed somewhat, noting that Unified Communications applications, such as Microsoft Lync, really can benefit from network awareness.

Broadcom’s Ramaswami also sees a need for network aware applications. If something goes wrong in terms of application delivery or performance, network awareness is key, he asserted.

“You need the visibility, as the network will always have an impact on performance,” Ramaswami said. “So you have to have some awareness. You don’t need to know how to provision every port, but you do need info.”

SDN’s impact on network admins

SDN might also affect the role of network architects. In Casado’s view, the role of a network architect varies from organization to organization, without any particular pattern, when it comes to SDN, but Ramaswami and Nagar feel differently.

Ramaswami sees the role of network admins becoming blurred with server admins as the question of who controls what becomes less clear.

Nagar, meanwhile, sees an expansion of the role of the network architect as a result of SDN. “The sandbox within which the network admin plays is now bigger,” he said.


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

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