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Plexxi Pulse: Conversations Between the Switch and the Controller

Ever wonder how the Plexxi switches talk to the Plexxi controller? This concept is critical to our solution, which includes switches that are managed by a centralized SDN controller. In this video Dan Backman takes a break from his bike ride to explain this concept and more. We will also be explaining how our solution works for cloud providers and with big data at the 13th Cloud Expo next week in Santa Clara, CA. Don’t miss it! Here is the video of the week and a few of my reads in the Plexxi Pulse – enjoy!

Andrew Conry Murray at Network Computing discusses the question many network personnel are asking themselves in the industry: will SDN make me homeless? The professionals who work in the data center will likely experience change from the implementation of SDN, and this article investigates how dramatic that change will be. The death of network engineering seems to be a common theme in our industry. I think people are not making sound arguments when they declare that an entire category of people ought to sign up for food stamps. It's good to see a solid panel argue a more realistic side. I do believe, however, that the industry change will lead to a new class of jobs that network engineers will be uniquely positioned to take advantage of. Someone with deep expertise of the details, who is capable of supporting orchestration, will succeed as the middleware between physical and orchestration layers takes shape. Network engineers who embrace the transition will do quite well.

Vess Balakov, a contributor to GigaOM, addresses SDN performance and implications for the network.  Vess says many are slow to implement SDN due to a range of obstacles still in place. I think the points in this article about collecting data from disparate sources and making it available to some unknown set of data services are on point. I doubt, however, that it translates into an “ubercontroller” with master visibility over all data. What we need, instead, is a data services engine that various services can subscribe to and pull any data from when they want it. This would decouple the data from the controller. The controller becomes just another consumer of data (presumably used to optimize as you point out), but you could have applications, compute, storage, and whatever else consumes the data.

Forbes contributor Ben Kepes discusses how SDN and emerging changes in the network pose serious threats to Cisco and other legacy vendors. He argues any solutions put forward will be temporary at best and this industry disruption is inevitable. Ben’s points are well made in this article. I think he misses that there is a convergence of trends happening simultaneously and even overlapping that are fundamentally different trends. Ben begins by discussing SDN and finishes with discussing white box switching. SDN is about automating workflows, and it very clearly attacks the OpEx side of the total cost equation. With a central intelligent controller to manage the network as a resource, it provides both a single point of administration and a single point of workflow execution. There is nothing about this that is inherently tied to commodity hardware. You should see a drop in pricing because of this, but not because of commoditization. Rather, this should create more competition and this will force a pricing mix shift from what is virtually 100% hardware to something that more closely approximates the R&D split already occurring with the big players. White box is about decoupling hardware and software and using commodity platforms underneath. If you want to build the same network today, but for less money, you use white box solutions. These solutions are based on a narrow set of reference platforms, which means if you don’t like your hardware choice, you can swap for different hardware that is actually functionally equivalent. This doesn’t really offer the flexibility I think Ben suggests. What Cumulus (and arguably the industry) needs is a broader range of reference platforms to choose from. If that happens, you will see broader adoption. Even then, that model is predicated largely on existing network design. To get the full value, we will need to see both new equipment/software and new architectures.

Network Computing contributor Greg Ferro asks vendors to use common sense when designing pricing plans and SDN licensing so customers can easily understand the model and make strategic decisions. When reading this post, I actually wonder how some of the licensing plans are going to be launched. I know Juniper boldly announced a new licensing scheme based on usage last year, but at the time, I wondered whether they had the device instrumentation and collection parts in place to make it all work. The failure scenarios get interesting too, depending on how license infringement is enforced. Wouldn't it be great if pricing was fixed and we didn't have arbitrarily high "list prices" so that we could make sure there was enough margin for a discount, a partner discount, a special customer discount, and then the discount of all discounts? This might take some of the pressure off the more elaborate ways to separate the customer from the money.

Mark Leary provided six important questions to ask your SDN supplier in Network World this week. Mark says that most enterprises and service providers are still in research mode and suppliers are similarly more of SDN researchers and developers than installers and integrators at the moment. I would argue that if you view a supplier as an SDN Supplier, you have probably already lost the battle. SDN is a framework at best, and while it doesn't make the network, it does make the network better. You should be evaluating networking solutions, data center solutions, and application transport solutions, but in the end, it has to do something useful. Merely containing a protocol is not super useful, and anyone who can make a compelling business case to deploy a protocol for the sake of the protocol is a great salesman. So, in my opinion, the only question that matters in this list is the last one, and everything else is just details.

Charles Babcock at InformationWeek  argues that the “commoditization of the virtualization market,” the supposed killer of VMware, isn't happening as everyone assumes it is. I think Charles’ point about this market transformation being all about management is exactly right. It is refreshing to see people pick up on the subtleties of market dynamics. The real battle being waged is not between the constituent components that make up the bowels of a solution. Rather the real push is for the “Point of Control.” That point will be at once the easiest to defend and the easiest to monetize. This battle does not exist only in the server virtualization space. As the whole software-defined movement envelops more of the IT infrastructure, there will be competing controllers – networking and storage already have them, add that to vCenter. It will be very important for some companies to win out in this space. Kings will be born and slain on the Point of Control. For anyone interested in OpenDaylight (Cisco and others have backed an open source horse in this race), Mike Bushong wrote about it here: Cisco, VMW, and ODP: Different strategies to win the network control battle

The post Plexxi Pulse: Conversations Between the Switch and the Controller appeared first on Plexxi.

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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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