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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.

[Art] That's kind of core to the spirit of the architecture. It seemed like for a long time people would try to engineer individual components to never, ever, ever fail no matter what. Somewhere along the ways we got into web-scale and we realized individual components are always going to fail. We have to build an architecture that can tolerate a lot of failure and still keep on running without a hitch.

[Rob] This is exactly the same transition that people went from in moving both from mainframes to PCs, and really from supercomputers to data centers. If you look at the architecture of a modern data center, people are starting to build them effectively exactly like supercomputers. People talk about things like pods, and that would be one supercomputer node. The idea of moving from hardware that can never fail to hardware that we know is going to fail with some probability unless we write better software, it is a tough pill to swallow but it's one the industry has swallowed a couple of times. I have a lot of faith this is going to be reality.

[Art] In 2015, SDN is going to become a lot more accessible to a lot wider range of audience because solutions like Big Switch are becoming more mature, easier to adopt. You've got other things that are finally really becoming within enterprise grasp this year, NSX for example, and other NVO solutions. I think this is going to be a year where a lot of rubber hits the road. I'm curious, what do you expect to see from the fallout of some of that stuff this year?

[Rob] I definitely think if you look at things like the traction that NSX is getting, you'll actually see a fairly big tussle in the underlay space. It's actually a use case that Big Switch is looking at fairly closely. We provide essentially a managed physical fabric that you can overlay over the top of us, so we can actually be the underlay to NSX's overlay. That's an interesting space. At the same time, if you look at some of the recent work that they've done, OVN they're calling it, so they're actually seeing a commoditization push that's already happening in the overlay space where you get folks like Midokura, you've got folks like PLUMgrid that are open sourcing and actually really trying to go after NSX in the only way that they can. Which is, let's build it more open.

[Art] OpenStack today largely uses a non-SDN framework. There's Neutron available, a lot of production implementations aren't using that. If you go to look at Neutron, I think there's this thought like, "Hey, I can go get OpenStack and I can deploy open source SDN with that." That's not exactly a reality today particularly with overlays. If you look at what's available from an open source overlay perspective, it's pretty much open vSwitch, which doesn't have much of a framework yet, they're working on that. Then you have some things more comprehensive like NSX and Plum Grid but there hasn't been this open source complete NSX like framework for NVOs. I'm familiar with at least three different products that are going to release NVO and physical OpenFlow as well this year for open source with OpenStack communities. That'll be an interesting inflection point once there are more NSX competitors of similar breadth available open source I think this year.


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