By Marko Rogan
Different groups at universities and Open Source projects have been experimenting with software-defined network (SDN) concepts for a number of years. However, outside R&D labs, there was no movement related to SDN solutions in the commercial space until late 2009, when Google was faced with a growing need to more efficiently utilize their resources to handle scaling network loads. At that point, Urs Hölzle, a Google Fellow and Employee No. 8 at the company, understood that the next step for Google was to look at SDN to maximize their network ROI.
Since there was no commercial SDN switch they could buy at the time, Google built an in-house SDN switch using merchant silicon (128 ports, 10Gb port speed, no cli, only open flow agent) and used servers with lots of RAM and multicore as the SDN controllers. In 2010, they first ran parallel networks—a traditional BGP/IS-IS network and the new SDN network—and after successful testing, started to move production traffic to the new SDN network. In 2012, at the Open Network Summit, Hölzle revealed that Google had been running an SDN WAN successfully and had seen improvements in network utilization and ROI. This generated a new level of movement with all key manufacturers to accelerate their delivery of SDN solutions to market.
How long will it take for customers to adopt SDN networks?
The history of virtualization may be a good window into the future of SDN. Phase 1 was limited to universities and application developers. Phase 2 was seen as limited deployment in production environments in non-critical and light-load areas. Phase 3 was seen as ready for full production usage. In Phase 4, which is where we are today with hypervisors, it’s very common to run 100 percent of the application on the hypervisor.
Who will be in charge of the SDN network, software developers or network engineers?
A similar question has been around for some time related to telepresence solutions: Is the IT VAR or ProAV VAR in charge of such a project? In most cases, allied trades need to work together to build the solution and support it through time. When there is limited or no communication early in the project, the costs are high and results are poor at the end. Software developers and network engineers will most likely need to work as a team and learn to speak each other’s language. Both programming languages and networking protocols have complexities that require the right skill sets for effective solutions to be realized.
How should IT network engineers prepare?
One area of interest for network engineers will be how to control the traffic flow and other characteristics such as security policies. Since we are at the early stages of SDN solutions, most of this work so far has been done via programming/scripting languages. At this point there is no clear winner as the language of choice for SDN programming, but if you don’t have a background in programming languages, it may be wise to start investing time in playing with Python, Ruby, C, Java and others. If you focus on a specific manufacturer, take time to understand what they are positing as their API/Toolkit for the SDN environment.
What should be the next step for VARs to get ready for SDN?
We’ve already talked about applying time learning programming languages. You will also need to determine what each manufacturer will support regarding programming languages and tool sets. If you have a team of engineers, determine who has the right skill sets. Folks that have a background in programming, electrical engineering, mathematics and other technical fields should be good candidates.
Leverage NFR programs from manufacturers to build your own SDN lab, and apply for beta programs related to SDN. Take a look at the open-source projects since they have played a key role in SDN development. Many key manufacturers are sponsors of such projects.
YouTube also has great videos on SDN. Key words you can use to perform searches include:
- SDN google
- SDN programming
- SDN openflow
And don’t forget, Ingram Micro’s Networking Technology Help Desk is available to assist with SDN-related questions. Call (800) 445-5066, ext. 76295 to learn more.