- NEC, IBM BNT, HP, and Juniper have committed to support and released OpenFlow-capable code.
- The greatest impediment to mass-market adoption will be commercial support.
If you have read the trade magazines and press materials around network technology over the last six to twelve months, you have noticed a decided uptick in the number of articles that focus on SDN and OpenFlow. These articles have covered the topics from the technology vendor perspective, as well as highlighting the academic and research communities’ support and interest in it. There are commercial products available today through a joint effort from NEC and IBM. HP announced the general availability of OpenFlow-capable switch software on a large swath of its switches, and Juniper committed to supporting OpenFlow within the SDK for its Junos developer community. This is a demonstration of the networking community’s belief that there is promise and a bright future for this enabling technology. Though conceived originally within the academic world for the purpose of network control and segregation to enable researchers, it has long since been perceived as a solution for certain ailments in the enterprise to address the scale and flexibility of networks. It is clear with the increase in inquiries from both enterprises and observers, however, that interest in this movement is reaching critical mass. The question is: When will it be commercially available, at scale, and supported in complex environments?
Support is perhaps the biggest hurdle that stands in the way of adoption of OpenFlow. In order for product networks to adopt and deploy OpenFlow, ‘enterprise-class’ support must be made available. This is not as simple as troubleshooting a single switch, which can in itself be complicated depending on the logging capability and probes one may have on/in the network, but rather will span multiple devices, multiple disciplines, and (the greater challenge) quite possibly multiple vendors. Enterprises must be confident that this investment promise outweighs the risks and challenges in order for it to be considered. They will not have the luxury of the early adopters (Google, Facebook, etc.) that have software programming staffers who can assess and recode or tune the network as needed. Instead, they will be dependent on support contracts spanning multiple vendors or left to their own resources. New support models that mimic other industries will spring up, and as a result, the network may resemble a service more than a CapEx investment. It is too early to say precisely how enterprises will consume this technology, but one thing is certain: Eventually, it will change everything.