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SDN leaders say it's too limiting to develop technologies that merely address some network layers or that don't integrate with network hardware. Embrane, for example, uses its distributed software platform Heleos to provide programmability into Layer 4-7 networking functions such as load balancing, Malagrino said.
Arista's Gourlay said SDN can provide not only a cost advantage, but also a competitive advantage, especially in carrier/service provider sales.
"If my provider asks for a new [network] feature and we build that feature for them, they have it and it's only a matter of time before other competitors build it and have it," Gourlay said. But if a carrier such as Verizon can develop a new feature in a programmable network rather than buy it, it's a lot harder for competitors to duplicate it.
While most SDN-focused companies are still defining use cases for the technology, the panelists agreed that the ability to flexibly move workloads in virtualized environments while also taking out cap-ex costs associated with traditionally designed networks have to be part of the discussion.
"This can't be a solution looking for a problem," Gourlay said.
Prodip Sen, director of network architecture for Verizon Communications, said that specific to carrier-grade SDNs, the system has to be about better managing and directing network traffic while also offering better resiliency. He listed cost reduction, service flexibility and service velocity as key drivers for SDN adoption.
A common argument in SDN circles is that it will further commoditize network products such as switches and routers. But the SDN panelists agreed that the market isn't so much about building a software switch that can eclipse Cisco so much as designing the best software system that makes the overall network -- from the physical hardware infrastructure to the virtualized functions -- a lot more efficient.
"I don't buy the commoditization argument," Embrane's Malagrino said. "I think we're seeing a shift from where a switch was part of a closed system to where a switch is integrated and programmable."
"[This market] provides a limited barrier to entry and no barrier to exit," Arista's Gourlay said. "The controller vendor who wins will be able to offer both hardware and software support. Why [companies like] VMware and Oracle dominate is because they offer a broad breadth of support."
PUBLISHED DEC. 13, 2012