Missing the Point on Software Defined Networking (SDN)
A week after attending ONS I have been reading a lot of analysis of SDN. My general conclusion is most people are missing the point. This is not about separating the control plane from the data plane. Despite what socks said, asking the question what problem is SDN trying to solve is not the point of SDN.
I generally viewed ONS as a creativity fail. Why? Change does not come from the company who controls 75% of the market and the seven dwarfs. If you listen to almost all of the incumbent vendors who spoke at ONS they are all wrapped around the axle about state, hybrid networks, software defined interfaces, overlays, decentralized versus centralized control; all of which are issues the legacy suppliers care about. I saw of number of investment management people at ONS and nearly all of them said they were there to see if CSCO was going out of business. In my view, we can stop that discussion now, as CSCO is not going out of business. They are going to be around for a very long time. CSCO did very well transforming the legacy infrastructure that IBM laid down from 1974 to ~1994, perhaps the companies that emerge from starting point of SDN will be the companies that transform the legacy infrastructure laid down by CSCO from 1992 to ~2013.
Software defined networks is not about retooling the legacy network of switched networks that the world has been piling up for the past fifteen to twenty years. SDN is about doing something different. We need to stop trying to figure out how to fit SDN into the past – let the incumbents figure that out. SDN is a starting point for the next round of innovators to ask a different set of questions.
What is possible if I designed the network differently? What is possible if I threw out two decades of design assumptions and principles? What is possible if I started with the premise that the network can do only one of two functions: connect and disconnect?
Asking the incumbents to lead this discussion is waste of time because they are bound by conditions that lead to the same answer. Here is an interesting press release from CSCO in which they state that Cisco is “Reinforcing its commitment to the industrialization of the Internet…” The industrialization of the internet is an interesting phrase. What are they trying to tell us? Is the current internet state equivalent to an evolving agrarian society and we are in the social, economic evolution into an industrial society? If that is an accurate assumption, than perhaps SDN will be the impetus for the re-composition of the industrial age into a workable form.
I am not going to repeat a list of all the signs of this re-composition age, if you need a refresher just read through the networking category on my blog. Even this morning I read some interesting tweets decrying the evolutionary path of the internet from agrarian to industrial; I removed the twitter handles, but the participants will laugh:
“If the cloudtards keep pushing for utility computing, wait until *that* gets regulated. *giddy with excitement*”
“Like SOPA? PIPA? Extraditing people from other countries? The internet is starting to become heavily politicized.”
In my view, SDN is not a tipping point. SDN is not obsoleting anyone. SDN is a starting point for a new network. It is an opportunity to ask if I threw all the crap in my network in the trash and started over what would we build, how would we architect the network and how would it work? Is there a better way?
All we are seeing today are failures and proofs of varying success to a new network. Drawing conclusions at this stage of development is pointless. We should be intrigued that people are asking: is there a better way? When we start making compromises to fit what is new into the past that is when it becomes homogenized (i.e. industrialized). I am not saying that the evolution of the network will be easily done and that is why CSCO is going to be around for a long time, but this is also the reason why I think the architects, the revolutionaries, the entrepreneurs, the leaders of the next twenty years of networking are not working at the incumbents.
* It is all about the network stupid, because it is all about compute. *
** Comments are always welcome in the comments section or in private. **