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SDN Views from a Huawei Employee at ONS 2013

ONS 2013 was held from May 7-8, 2013, and attracted participants from academic and commercial entities of all sizes from market sectors such as Information Technology, Communication Technology, Hardware, and Software. Attendance soared this year, to 1,500 people – a two-fold increase over last year. It was the first time I had ever attended such a summit, which was spectacular and informative, and I am very pleased to share my experiences.

SDN is Thriving in the Data Center Industry

Google, eBay, and Microsoft explained their approach to commercial SDN applications. Specifically, Google elaborated on connectivity between its data centers, eBay explained how to shift from traditional data center network architectures to SDN, and Microsoft explained how to use SDN to speed up lease-line user deployments on its commercial cloud, Azure. With their respective strength and authority in the data center and content-provider fields, these three companies amass huge potential to influence and frame the technological choices of small rivals and equipment vendors.

In both the inter- and intra-data center fields, few participants continued to debate the advantages and disadvantages of SDN or OpenFlow. Instead, a consensus had emerged and it is understood that the deployment of SDN or OpenFlow will simplify traditional network architectures, streamline operation and maintenance, and provide the potential to speed up business development. Some vendors presented examples of their current practices. Vendors who had taken a wait-and-see approach towards SDN joined the newly founded OpenDaylight camp, trying to seize a strong position in the ICT industry. OpenDaylight is favored by key data center vendors.

My comments: SDN is an irresistible trend in the data center field. Whoever fails to embrace SDN will be left behind because SDN is the right business choice, not just a technical preference.

SDN Debuts in the Enterprise Network Industry

The president of the Intel Network Product Line invited VMware executives to his keynote speech and focused on introducing several products, successfully turning his time at the podium into an Intel product launch. Intel views SDN as a new growth point in its network product line and has stepped up SDN initiatives so extensively that it seems to be catching up with Broadcom. The upshot: competition in the chip arena will intensify.

Less developed enterprise network vendors, such as HP, Dell, and Juniper, view SDN as an opportunity to shake up the industry and have begun efforts to rapidly deploy SDN.

My comments: More time is needed to prove that SDN can replace the functions of traditional switches and routers in the enterprise network industry, and new functions and applications remain unclear. As a result, SDN is not yet as valuable to the enterprise network industry as it is to the data center industry.

SDN in the Carrier Industry: Groping in the Dark

Deutsche Telekom, NTT, and Verizon introduced their SDN pilot practices. Deutsche Telekom deployed an Operation Support System (OSS) frame for its Terastream network. NTT and Verizon ran pilot projects on their own data centers even though SDN is not closely related to their business.

On several occasions, including during panel discussions, participants agreed that four to six years would pass before carriers can deploy SDN for their services.

My comments: Carriers believe that SDN is likely to simplify network operation and maintenance and speed up service launches in the future. However, SDN still has a long way to go because the usage scenarios in the carrier industry are far more complicated than those in the data center and enterprise network markets.

Key Takeaways

1. To compete with the successful OpenFlow and OpenStack solutions, major data center vendors established their own alliance (OpenDaylight) to provide offerings for use between northbound and southbound APIs. It is said that OpenDaylight is going to win over ONS participants and that ONS 2013 has reached its peak.

2. Bruce Davie, a Cisco, Nicira, and VMware fellow, reiterated that the key network problems lie in complicated traditional network architecture and slow innovation and that such problems can be resolved only by network virtualization, not SDN. His speech prompted both dissent and agreement.

3. The chairman of ONS made a short but interesting speech on the second day. In his view, vendors are merely re-labeling their existing technologies as SDN products by simply installing an SDN or OpenFlow interface on devices, which he called "SDN washing." He said that such attempts were dangerous, superficial, and shortsighted. These remarks, I believe, may have offended a great many vendors present.

4. OpenFlow has shifted its attention to functions beyond basic control, such as security and OAM.

5. In terms of the development or research track, discussions focused on realities. For example, with centralized control, the algorithms for route convergence and link protection are much more complicated than those in the distributed mode.

6. Nick McKeown, who co-founded the ONS, discussed the next-generation SDN chip structure in his closing speech. He believes the next-generation SDN chip structure is nothing but a repackaging of the current chip, which can only deal with forwarding; far from a real Match/Action structure. He then introduced a new chip developed by TI and Stanford.


Official website of ONS 2013:

The website is informative, including video clips of all speeches delivered at ONS 2012 and 2013.

• Opening speech by Vint Cerf

• Keynote speeches by HP and Intel

• Speech by Juniper

• Closing speech by Nick McKeown

• Final seminar

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