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Big Switch Networks CTO Rob Sherwood on SDN in 2015: The time is now

Art Fewell | March 10, 2015
I recently had the chance to sit down with Rob Sherwood, CTO of Big Switch Networks to get his insight on whats hot with SDN for 2015.

Which is interesting, because networking for so long is plumbing and now you've really in this past year, you've seen some really big articles from Facebook and from Google that have really attested to just how much strategic differentiation that Facebook, and Google, and some of those other companies have been able to get specifically from the network. Which I think is a very fascinating point.

[Rob] What people talk about and when I pitch people the benefits of our software, I actually tell them, "the third most interesting thing is actually the capex", "Well, isn't that what the main point is?" "No, no, no." If you talk to most companies, capex is actually one of their lesser problems. One of their bigger problems is the opex cost and their biggest, their number one problem is actually the network is actually holding them back. If you talked to a large bank who makes money by deploying new applications. Some analyst somewhere comes up with some idea that says, "We could do loan refinancing this completely different way. Let's do a web application that has a pop-up. When our users log into our bank account, it'll pop up saying 'Hey, have you thought about refinancing your home loan this way?' To build that application takes months and the holdup there is actually their network. The thing that makes the banks money is limited by the network. Yes, capex is important but it's not as important as opex. Even opex isn't as important as doing more of the thing that makes you money.

[Art] I don't want to get too detailed but what is it about SDN in that context? We've got a lot of, especially compared to how we did traditional networking, we used to have to stick an access list on a physical switch port somewhere to be able to control policy in a way that was very not connected at all to the application provisioning. That's changing, right? That's very different than in a Big Switch network, how does that work?

[Rob] There are two big things. One is, in traditional ways people have to do box-by-box provisioning. That is, if you want to set up a new collection of VMs somewhere on this side of the data center and somewhere on this side; you will actually have to log in to every box along the path and update that configuration. You better hope you don't make a subtle mistake because you might have to then log into all of those boxes again to try to figure out what it is. Having the automation to do, to move from box-by-box to an automated setting, that actually is a strict improvement both in terms of speed but also in terms of if you've got a computer actually making these changes for you, it's less likely to make a mistake.

 

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