Juniper SDK Update Another Sign Of OpenFlow Influence

The OpenFlow switching and communications protocol addresses packet routing on a software layer that's separate from a network's physical infrastructure. OpenFlow's major benefit is flexibility, thanks to how OpenFlow controllers can send instructions to any OpenFlow-enabled switch, no matter who manufactured it, and enable virtualized networks that are easier to program and customize.

Theoretically, the protocol could yield switching technology that is more suited to virtualization's role in networks and is also lower-cost than existing switches. Much attention has thus shifted to how the major networking and infrastructure vendors will address OpenFlow, as some observers see OpenFlow and the broader SDN trend as potentially damaging to long-dominant switch players like Cisco, for how it could further commoditize the switch market.

In Juniper's case, adding OpenFlow to its Junos SDK could make the programming of Juniper's routers and switches that much easier, using Junos software. According to Juniper, the OpenFlow application works within the Junos SDK to change the control plane and make programming more dynamic. Juniper was among participants at last week's Open Networking Summit at Stanford University, and is also a founding member of the Open Networking Foundation.

"Juniper is making the OpenFlow application available to an SDK developer community that includes more than five hundred organizations in order to get working code into the hands of customers so they can explore how OpenFlow and network programmability can impact networks everywhere," said Mike Marcellin, vice president of systems strategy and marketing at Juniper, in a statement. "Our priority is making the networking infrastructure more efficient and effective for customers, and OpenFlow is an important step on the path to greater programmability."

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Many of the industry's biggest players have noted support for OpenFlow, and Juniper's announcement is only the most recent mention. IBM, for example, last week launched an OpenFlow-enabled switch, the RackSwitch G8264, as part of a group of data networking products.

Cisco, thought to be especially vulnerable if OpenFlow and the SDN trend takes off, has also been vocal. Cisco representatives spoke at the Open Networking Summit, and in a recent post to Cisco's Data Center and Cloud Blog, Omar Sultan, senior manager of data center architecture, sought to address what Cisco is doing with OpenFlow.

The short answer, per a conversation Sultan posted between himself and David Meyer, Cisco distinguished engineer, is that Cisco will be adding OpenFlow to its Nexus data center switches.

"Cisco has always embraced disruption," Meyer is quoted as saying. "We don't always get it right on the first shot, but we usually get it in the end. Take server virtualization as an example -- while we may not have been first off the line, we now have the broadest and strongest portfolio of virtualization networking technologies in the market. Critics only saw the short-term impact to our switching revenue (less ports sold) but we saw the transformational value of virtualization."

In his comments, Meyer holds back from a full-on endorsement of OpenFlow but indicates Cisco does see the SDN as "an evolution."

"We believe the OpenFlow specification needs to be fleshed out a bit more before it's truly production ready," he said.

The major proponents of OpenFlow include startups like Big Switch Networks, which has made no secret of hoping to achieve in networking what VMware has in server virtualization. Big Switch's first major product, an OpenFlow controller, is currently in private beta.

Big Switch Vice President, Outbound Marketing Isabelle Guis, who recently joined Big Switch from Avaya as one of several major hires at Big Switch, wrote in a Big Switch blog post earlier this week that virtualization's more pronounced role in networking is inevitable.

"Networking has been the foundation that made the growth of the Internet to 2 billion users possible," Guis wrote. "In turn, each user requested access to more applications and this drove exponential demand for data computing and storage. Virtualization helped relieve these pressures, but has not reached the same proficiency in the networking space. Networks have to be more agile, efficient and dynamic and they need it fast to keep up with demand."