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Cisco, VMware and OpenFlow fragment SDNs

Juniper Networks Executive Vice President Bob Muglia spelled it out succinctly: the nascent software-defined networking market is morphing into three camps - OpenFlow/open source, Cisco and VMware.

Muglia said Juniper is looking to coalesce the industry around a third "standard" in SDN controllers, one that would be an open source alternative to those offered, or to be offered, from Cisco and VMware. Given their dominant positions in their respective markets, Muglia expects Cisco and VMware to be leading players in SDNs.

"We think the likely thing and the best thing for the industry is to have an open source controller emerge that becomes a third standard controller," Muglia said in an interview with Network World in September. "One that is available broadly across companies and supports the broad set of capabilities that are needed."

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And that pretty much lays out how the SDN marketplace is shaping up - the Cisco camp, the VMware camp, and everyone else looking for an alternative to Cisco and VMware. That mantle is falling on the open source community, where OpenFlow-based controllers have seized the early momentum.

 

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Juniper is supporting an OpenFlow/open source controller from start-up Big Switch Networks, which has also garnered the support of many other industry players, including Arista Networks, Broadcom, Brocade, Citrix, Dell, Extreme Networks, F5, Mellanox and Microsoft. Meanwhile, data center titans HP and IBM are offering their own OpenFlow-based controllers.

But Juniper cautions not to read too much into the Big Switch endorsement. The company did not answer a direct question on whether the Big Switch controller and its Floodlight open source core represent the third standard Muglia referred to.

"Unlike many start-ups and incumbents in our space, Juniper is a pure-play networking company that embraces partners," says Mike Marcellin, Juniper senior vice president of strategy and marketing. "Juniper's involvement in the Big Switch announcements highlights our commitment to partnerships to support and advance open SDN protocols. This will continue to be a key part of our SDN strategy. "Additionally, we demonstrated Floodlight controller interoperability on our systems already earlier this year with BigSwitch, so support of this announcement is nothing new."

Cisco, which also offers an OpenFlow-based controller for research and academia, has actually downplayed OpenFlow's significance in programmable networking. Cisco targets five key markets for programmable networks but views OpenFlow as only relevant in one of them - research and academia. And thus far, Cisco has pledged to support OpenFlow on only the Catalyst 3750-X and 3560-X switches.

VMware paid $1.26 billion to acquire start-up Nicira for its overlay network virtualization control software. Nicira was co-founded by OpenFlow creator Martin Casado but OpenFlow plays a supporting role in Nicira's software - not a central one.

"Traditionally, OpenFlow does not do network virtualization," Casado told Network World back in June. "All OpenFlow does is allow you to control switches and it may allow you to run different applications on the switch. But it doesn't provide you the ability to create a virtual network that's topology independent that supports L2 and L3. I don't know of any OpenFlow solution that does this."

Perhaps with the activity around defining an open source standard SDN controller to go up against Cisco and VMware, this gap will be filled.

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.


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