Brocade: SDN Requires Smart Hardware, Not Commoditized

Fears about the nascent software-defined networking, or SDN, technology commoditizing networking equipment, which were sparked by VMware's acquisition of Nicira, are unfounded, said a top executive at Brocade.

Ken Cheng, vice president and general manager for service provider and application delivery products for Brocade, told CRN that his company had collaboration projects with Nicira, as startup developer of SDN technology, well before VMware unveiled its $1.2 billion plan to acquire Nicira.

Software-defined networking, or SDN, is technology that adds a virtual layer over networking hardware that allows developers and applications to better control the resources needed to keep data flowing efficiently.

[Related: Analysis: Nicira Buy To Bring VMware Closer To OpenStack, Networking Vendors ]

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SDN was a major focus at the Brocade Technology and Analysts Day, held Wednesday in its San Jose, Calif. headquarters

Collaboration and partnering are important for bringing SDN technology to the market given that SDN technology from even pure-software developers like Nicira must run on and interface with physical infrastructure, Cheng said.

"In any virtualized environment, customers will need a gateway to the physical world, or to the Internet," he said. "There are also environments where customers will want to run only on physical hardware, such as database applications. In such cases, Nicira will need to partner."

Customers will also be looking to extend SDN capabilities over wide-area networks, and they will also be dealing with a lot of interesting applications that have not yet been thought of in the SDN world such as load balancing of Web traffic or virtual machines and physical servers, Cheng said.

The complexity of those applications means the networking hardware on which SDN runs will become more, not less, sophisticated. "This will not commoditize the network," he said. "In the end, the network will become more complex."

Provo, Utah-based OBT Anywhere, a provider of cloud-based, hosted unified communications services that has been working with Brocade on SDN and multi-tenancy technology, illustrates just how complex networking requirements are becoming.

NEXT: Looking To SDN To Reduce Complexity

Matt Freestone, director of R&D and technology at OBT, said SDN brings the promise of making it easier for service providers to gain better control over their networks.

"I'm very broad in terms of IT skills," Freestone said. "But if I try to become an expert in networking, I wouldn't be able to do it. I have no ability to manage a network now at a deep level. But I would be able to do it with SDN."

Mark Allen, UC customer experience specialist, said his company is working on such massive projects as deploying 1.7 million Microsoft Lync seats in conjunction with that vendor in education environments. And in such environments, it may be necessary to quickly pull part of a network into a new project.

"That's where we can start working with Brocade to see how to better manage that traffic than in the past," Allen said. "For us, this can impact rapid growth. We don't want to be changing physical switches on the fly. We have five data centers globally, some of which are not even manned. With SDN, I can see what's coming, and be ready when it happens."