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Intel lays foundations for SDN gear that could shake up networking

Stephen Lawson | April 18, 2013
If software-defined networking ultimately changes the landscape of networking, Intel could be one of the biggest beneficiaries -- and might be one of the reasons.

The Server Reference Design is a hardware platform for virtualized switches. It's designed as a dual-socket server for Intel's Ivy Bridge Xeon CPUs, due later this year. It includes the same software, plus the DPDK Accelerated Open vSwitch. OpenFlow, Open vSwitch and OpenStack API support are built in.

Among other things, the Open Networking Platform will help to make virtualization feasible in service-provider networks, where requirements for low latency and voice jitter have prevented it until now, Schooler said. SDN promises to help service providers lower their capital, energy and operating costs, which are rising faster than their revenues, plus help them introduce new services more quickly, she said. Specialized, proprietary equipment with separate software stacks on each network device has hampered centralized management of enterprise and service-provider networks, according to Intel.

Schooler said Intel's new reference designs fit in with the mission of the OpenDaylight Project, a multivendor initiative to develop an open-source SDN framework, which Intel joined last week at its inception. Intel shares OpenDaylight's vision of a common SDN architecture based on code selected through a "meritocracy," which will allow for more innovation in networking, she said. Intel is also working with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute's NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) project, aimed at virtualized service-provider networks.

Intel will target network vendors of all kinds to implement systems based on its reference designs. They may have the most impact when competitive vendors start to find their way into service-provider networks, now dominated by the likes of Cisco and Juniper, Yankee's Pigg said. Those new players could include startups as well as more established vendors such as Brocade or Extreme Networks. Intel's designs could save them time and money in getting SDN products into the market, she said.

Those new products may first be installed at small third-tier carriers and gradually gain acceptance at bigger carriers that appreciate the lower cost, she said. At enterprises, which are typically less conservative than service providers, such platforms might make even quicker inroads, Pigg said. Eventually, the dominance of today's biggest networking vendors might break down.

In the best-case scenario for Intel, it could end up dominating hardware architectures in networking just as it does in computing. But whether this will happen, and whether SDN will bring about the revolution in networking that Intel and others hope for, is far from certain, Pigg said.

"'Could this be a major inflection point in the industry?' is really the big question that faces SDN," Pigg said.



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