May 18th, 2011
Interop, the IT industry’s largest networking event, completed its 25th annual event last Thursday afternoon in Las Vegas. While attendance and the number of participating vendors continue to be smaller than in years past, there was unquestionably a great deal of buzz around this year’s show.
From the typical product announcements, to a variety of business deals and executive changes (see The Empire Strikes Back: Cisco Brings On Board Fabric Father, David Yen, there was plenty of news to go around this year.
While Interop once again brought all the key industry players together, and buzzwords were thrown out left and right, there was one word that seemed to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue: OpenFlow. In fact, judging by the noise on the show floor, Interop 2011 could have very easily changed its name to OpenFlow 2011 this year.
According to their website, The OpenFlow Switching specification was created back in 2008 to “evangelize and support OpenFlow.” Their goal is for OpenFlow to be owned by the community for the betterment of research and innovation in the networking industry.
OpenFlow allows the path of network packets through the network of switches to be determined by software running on a separate server. Mike Fratto at InformationWeek explains:
OpenFlow is a protocol which allows a centralized controller to configure and update OpenFlow edge switch forwarding tables. With OpenFlow, the controller can determine the optimal path through the network based on shortest distance, access controls, bandwidth, or other constraints.
OpenFlow is being promoted by the Open Networking Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting a new approach to networking called software-defined networking. The software-defined network is a departure from the traditional networking paradigm with a goal of making small and large networks programmable in much the same way that individual computers are.
Our own client, IP Infusion, announced at the show that they had joined the ONF as part of its initiative to further innovation in software-defined networking.
In discussing IP Infusion’s joining of the ONF, CEO Koichi Narasaki stated:
“The goals outlined by the ONF align perfectly with our vision for transforming tomorrow’s communications networks today. Without innovation, new approaches such as cloud computing will never reach their full potential. The foundation supports our goal to create solutions that accelerate innovative solutions for data center networks. We clearly see the value that the ONF will bring to our OEM customers as the organization drives a new generation of standards-based and intelligent networking solutions for service providers and enterprises. Participating in an organization that includes so many other industry leaders will allow us to drive technological advances that will enhance our offerings.”
In my time walking the show flow, it was obvious that there was a lot of noise about both the ONF and OpenFlow. Representatives of member companies didn’t hesitate to talk about their role in the organization and a number of companies were demonstrating OpenFlow switches and controllers. There was even a lab demonstration located on the show floor which had attendees coming and going throughout the event. Sean Michael Kerner of InternetNews.com has a great demo which he shot at the OpenFlow lab.
So why is OpenFlow so important? Here is what Jim Duffy at Network World had to say:
Vendors offer varying degrees of user programmability on their routers and switches. This can lead to limited functionality for traffic engineering and management, or inconsistent traffic management between equipment from multiple vendors. OpenFlow is designed to provide consistency in traffic management and engineering by making this control function independent of the hardware it’s intended to control.
Will OpenFlow work? According to Jon Oltsik of Network World:
“The geeky theoretical side of me really likes OpenFlow. Seems like a great way to virtualize networks, centralize security control enforcement, and customize network flows based upon application requirements.”
While many have said in the past few years that Interop is getting old and tiresome, I still feel that the show is very important for the industry as evidenced by the buzz at this year’s show around the ONF and OpenFlow.
Interop still serves an important purpose as the show continues to bring the entire industry together for 1:1 discussions with everyone from small startups to the 500 pound gorillas such as Cisco and Juniper Networks. The show is imperative because when companies and attendees get together and have authentic conversations, real innovation takes place.
I could probably go on-and-on about this year’s show, but I am going to take some time to let things settle in. For now, I say farewell to Interop Las Vegas and look forward to the Fall show in New York.
Will I see you there?