Sunday, March 18, 2012

Software Network Revolution

An outfit called Arista Networks — co-founded by inaugural Sun Microsystems employee Andreas von Bechtolsheim — is already offering hardware switch designed specifically for data centers that use software-defined networking, which involves moving many traditional networking tasks off of expensive hardware and into software.

Various other outfits are offering tools for software-defined networking, including Nicera and Big Switch Networks. The idea was developed in response to networking giants such as Cisco and HP, which in many ways control corporate networks because they control the networking hardware. Software-defined networking, built atop protocols such as OpenFlow, seeks to remove that control.

“It was eye-opening,” Kyle Forster, an ex-Cisco employee and a co-founder of Big Switch Networks, told us last year, referring to the first time he looked at the research that became OpenFlow. “So many of the intractable problems we faced at Cisco just felt so easy.”

Essentially, OpenFlow separates networking into one plane that handles data and another that controls its movement. This is the way cellular networks have worked for years, but it was revolution in the data center networking business. The control plane could be run on standard servers, and then the data center plane could be run by fairly ordinary high-speed networking chips — rather than lots of fancy new hardware

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