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Plexxi Pulse – Plexxi Socks Take on Interop New York

This week Plexxi has been busy at the Interop New York Conference and Expo. We were most excited to share our new #socksofplexxi at the conference this week. If you have been in attendance you may have spotted the brightly colored gems walking around the conference floor. Here are a few of my reads in the Plexxi Pulse this week – enjoy!

Network World’s Jim Duffy covered HP’s big news this week regarding the establishment of its “open” approach to SDN. HP is pushing this effort to accelerate programmable network deployments with a SDN SDK for writing applications optimized for programmable networks and an app store to facilitate the selling and buying process. I like the intent of what HP is trying to do. Focusing on the controller applications and relegating the supporting protocols to implementation details is exactly the right thing, however making the move while simultaneously making a big deal of the supporting protocols seems a little untrue. I don't fully understand the “app store” fascination. The app store worked with Apple because there were millions of devices developers could sell to. The volume of buyers attracted the developers, not the mere presence of APIs and a sales front end.  You have to wonder what happens in a fractured controller market without common northbound APIs (from controller to controller apps). It could be clever to build the marketplace first, but for a technology that is desperately trying to stay heterogeneous, it doesn’t seem logical that the dominant app store would be tied to one vendor. Also the number of controllers that get deployed should be orders of magnitude lower than the number of actual devices, so the market is tiny. I am sure this all makes perfect sense in the detailed launch decks, but this one is perplexing to me from an overarching strategy perspective.

Charles Babcock at InformationWeek focuses on IBM’s approach to SDN and its role as an organizer of OpenDaylight. I find part of the discussion in this article around OpenDaylight a little bit confusing, because OpenDaylight is less about making an open source operating system for the network and more about creating an open source platform to act as the control point for the network. The underlying network will consist of switching and routing elements (some physical, some virtual). Those elements will have network operating systems (some proprietary, some open source). Moreover, those elements within an SDN architecture will need to be orchestrated by some SDN controller. The hope is that controller can be open source, helping to mitigate lock-in at the point of control. That point of control will also serve for many as the point of integration. Keeping this free from vendor interests likely benefits everyone. It should help minimize the likelihood that the orchestration system inhibits choice and flexibility in the supporting networking nodes.

InformationWeek contributor Kurt Marko asks whether the next generation of software-defined networks need a separation between physical and virtual elements? Kurt discusses how OpenFlow provided a reason to say no, but things have evolved quickly in the industry. He explains one major approach to SDN as software-centric overlays. I think there are a couple of other considerations for overlays that probably don't rise to the level of detractor, but rather talk to the need for these overlays to communicate with the physical network underneath. Imagine two overlays (or even two flows in a single overlay). Ultimately things will break down to packets on a wire. How does the physical network know which packet gets priority with these two? This is a simplistic example obviously. But the point is that overlays will eventually need to be pinned to physical networks. This speaks less to one v. the other and more to the need for active collaboration between the two. I think some of the more genuine dialogue on overlays and physical networks is starting to embrace this a bit more. Once we get past some of the marketing hype, cooler minds usually prevail

Ivan Pepelnjak posted on the intricacies of optimal layer-3 forwarding in his IP Space blog this week to respond to his followers questions on “how does it really work behind the scenes?” In relation to Ivan’s comments about scalability concerns, I am not a fan of building large L2 networks, but even small L2 networks may need to be distributed. Size and distribution are not necessarily related. ARP and MAC address, yes, but with recent hardware those limits are fine for just about everyone. And there is a difference between having an address available on a switch versus actively installed in forwarding hardware. As for the IP addressing for optimized or distributed routing, it does not have to be that way. A Plexxi blog post touches on this very same topic and explains at a high level how Plexxi tackles distributed routing.

Craig Matsumoto at SDNCentral  wrote about AT&T’s pursuit of “open” SDN this week. I love hearing customers get more precise about Open. Right now, open, and more specifically open SDN, has become more of a catch phrase than meaningful descriptor. The actual requirement varies from customer to customer, and using a vague, blanket term isn’t helping anyone at this point. I’ve posted a blog on “All Manners of Open” that discusses this topic.

In Enterprise Networking Planet, Sean Michael Kerner quotes the CTO of Ciena, Stephen Alexander, arguing that SDN isn’t hyped enough despite what much of the industry believes. Stephen Alexander believes openness in networking is about “having no fences, no one-way signs, and no speed limits.” When reading this article, I worry that the dialogue around this argument is a little vague. The idea that the network is programmable is very interesting and I think it makes for good sound bites, but what exactly does programmable mean? Who initiates these programmatic changes, and based on what triggers? The example that gets carted out the most is that application guys have to wait for network bottlenecks. But I don't think the application guys actually want to program the network, and the network guys certainly don't want workarounds that expose them to unnecessary risk (both uptime and security). What both want is a means of expressing application workload requirements that can eventually be translated into network behavior. The application guys own the requirements; the network guys own the translation. This preserves boundaries while providing the dynamism people want. If this is the goal, the question is where all the talk of application workloads is? To date, the dialogue is either too low level or too networking-centric. It will be interesting to see if we can transition to more meaningful conversation.

Data Center Knowledge’s  Rich Miller says it’s the age of DevOps and that stacks and flows are the answer for the network, which itself is the major roadblock in progress. I like the focus on automation and the rise of DevOps in a networking context. I think that is exactly the right direction. But the more I talk about DevOps with people and read about it in articles by networking people, the more I am convinced that the application of DevOps to networking is not really well understood. There seems to be this belief that applying “DevOps” to networking is simply extending the tools and concepts to routers and switches. But the problems in compute and storage are not the same as those in networking. With servers, the issue is provisioning and deployment – turning up new capacity to support applications. You start with the application and you bring the compute and storage sides in tow. But with networking, it is not about new device bring-up. The issue is edge policy, and the real point is that the edge policy is tied to applications. If that is the case, the entry point is not the router or switch but rather the application, and ideally the automated workflows would be tied to the server activity, not just launched as an automated network activity. If we treat the network like we treat compute, we will get some savings from automation. But we will have missed the entire point of data center infrastructure: it all works in concert to support the application. Right now, we aren’t even having the right dialogue unfortunately.

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More Stories By Michael Bushong

The best marketing efforts leverage deep technology understanding with a highly-approachable means of communicating. Plexxi's Vice President of Marketing Michael Bushong has acquired these skills having spent 12 years at Juniper Networks where he led product management, product strategy and product marketing organizations for Juniper's flagship operating system, Junos. Michael spent the last several years at Juniper leading their SDN efforts across both service provider and enterprise markets. Prior to Juniper, Michael spent time at database supplier Sybase, and ASIC design tool companies Synopsis and Magma Design Automation. Michael's undergraduate work at the University of California Berkeley in advanced fluid mechanics and heat transfer lend new meaning to the marketing phrase "This isn't rocket science."

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