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SDN: The user view

John Dix | July 1, 2013
Q&A with early SDN adopter Steve Wallace.

So, for example, when OpenFlow went from 1.0 to 1.1, it changed quite a bit and included support for more than one flow table and the notion of a packet-processing pipeline, and I think those enhancements to the stack were informed by the folks that make the silicon to forward packets, and they basically helped the standards folks understand how the abstraction could be expanded at the same time in a way that they could do this efficiently in silicon and then give you an abstraction that was actually useful for implementing network features, so all of those things are happening.

It's not crystal clear when the right time to make the jump to requiring a certain level of OpenFlow support in switches will be. For example, we could say the next round of equipment we're buying has to support a certain set of features in OpenFlow, and if only one company could meet that requirement, then it really narrows our options in what we purchase. We want to wait until there's some choice. That will probably be within a year, maybe a year and a half.

Is there any doubt in your mind that within X number of years you will reach this kind of SDN nirvana, or might the whole movement fall apart at some point because of problems that we haven't perceived yet?
I think that in the large data center space there's no question SDN has already taken off. It's here to stay. And the notion of a centralized controller configuring all devices as a network, not configuring them device-by-device -- it is hard for me to imagine that not happening. I think OpenFlow is a really good start and there need to be improvements in the abstraction it provides, and there needs to be some market stability for people who want to write applications. So when you look at northbound APIs out of controllers and you look at how controllers support applications, there's a lot of uncertainty right now.

Any closing thoughts?
I recently sat down with Big Switch and asked them what models of different vendor switches would work best with their controller, and the response was, "We're real excited about the Trident II chipset from Broadcom." That was interesting to me because I know how our virtual machine guys approach upgrades. When they know they're going to be buying new servers for the virtual server environment, they'll ask the hypervisor supplier what chipsets best support the features we're going to be using. And then our guys will go look for the best packaging of that chipset architecture. And best packaging might include price, might include support, it might include the size of the servers, all kinds of things. But they'll lead with which chip architecture they need. And I think it's possible that that will become a more important component in folks' hardware selection for network switching devices. There are more questions to ask, but that may become a different kind of conversation and purchasing process.


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