SDN needs open platforms, not just protocols, says Extreme Networks
Network equipment maker Extreme Networks has joined the OpenDaylight open source network controller group, and will adopt its code for a push to establish itself as a major player in software defined networking (SDN).
Extreme will make a network controller based on OpenDaylight code which can potentially manage SDN switches from other vendors, and unite Extreme’s own legacy hardware, with that of its acquired former rival Enterasys. It can also run applications from third parties – and Extreme is sponsoring a challenge through the government-backed US Ignite scheme, to encourage applications running on OpenDaylight controllers from Extreme and other vendors.
“By 2017, more than ten percent of all networks switches being sold will be SDN capable – and SDN-deployed,” said Markus Nispel, Extreme’s vice president of solutions architecture and innovation, in an interview with TechWeekEurope. That implies a more than $2 billion market for SDN kit and software, of which Extreme wants a big share.
“We want to grab mindshare and become a key SDN player in the future,” Nispel told us. “After 2020 there will be a radical shift to an application economy in networks.” Extreme, he explained, will go for this opportunity because it is big enough (with 1500 engineers) to be able to do real SDN development, but not so big that it feels threatened by it.
Many network players hope that supporting the OpenFlow switch management protocols will make them look like SDN backers, but SDN alone is not enough, said Nispel.
While OpenFlow is a “southbound” protocol (ie pointing down towards the hardware), network builders also need “northbound” standardisation, where APIs support applications that can manage multiple vendor’s hardware and potentially run on different controllers.
Extreme’s own hardware illustrates both approaches, said Nispel, with Extreme adopting OpenFlow in its Xos operating system. Meanwhile Enterasys experimented very early with flow-based architectures using other protocols, attempting the “northbound” part of the equation.
OpenDaylight potentially solves Extreme’s problems, as it can manage different protocols alongside OpenFlow, so it can unite the Extreme and Enterasys hardware, while it also provides an open platform for applications. In doing so, it solves the issues that arise in customers’ multi-vendor networks, he said.
A version of Extreme’s OpenDaylight-based controller, called OneController, will be released in September – basically consisting of the OpenDaylight code – which will then be hardened into a production-ready system by the end of the year.
Other Extreme products will be integrated one by one, including Extreme’s IdentiFi Wi-Fi controller, Network Access Control (NAC) and the Purview big data analysis and management product.
There are more details in Extreme’s FAQ.
Big players are threatened?
Large players like Cisco are threatened as OpenDaylight would open their customers’ networks to rivals, so they adopt OpenFlow with extensions, and user-proprietary controller systems such as Cisco’s ACI instead of OpenDaylight, said Nispel. Hewlett-Packard is an enthusiastic OpenDaylight supporter, but uses its own SDN controller, claiming it is more reliable and “enterprise grade”.
Brocade has also made a big play for SDN, but Nispel says its appeal is too limited to data centres. Also in the data centre, Facebook is building its own “white label” Wedge switches to be as open as possible, potentially shaking up the market further.
Extreme has some 40 partners on board, including MobileIron and Citrix, and hopes its Innovation Challenge will produce some significant features to add to its open controllers. There are prizes of $5000, $3000 and $2000 on offer, and developers keep the intellectual property of the tools they develop, which will also run on other vendors’ OpenDaylight controllers because, as Extreme’s FAQ says, “that’s the whole point of our solution being both open and standards-based”.