Strategy: Inside OpenFlow

Oct 06, 2011


Inside OpenFlow

Opportunity and disruption often go hand in hand. OpenFlow creates some distinct opportunities for commodity switch vendors to break into a market segment long dominated by bigger players with extensive feature support in their operating systems. It also creates opportunities for new vendors focused on network controllers, such as Big Switch Networks and Nicira Networks. Taking over the “brains” of the network means switch vendors excelling in low cost manufacturing can remove some of their R&D costs and zero in on hardware sales. But it’s also disruptive, to IT and the networking status quo.

Ultimately, the success or failure of OpenFlow, and, more widely, software-defined networking depends on how well controllers integrate with switches and the breadth of availability of OpenFlow-capable switches. In this three-part report we’ll provide a market and technology overview, then InformationWeek Reports managing director Art Wittmann weighs in on the effects the protocol may have on the currently dominant players in the “big switch” market. We’ll close with a tutorial on OpenFlow.

So far, Cisco and Juniper have both been public supporters of OpenFlow, and Juniper has demonstrated support in some of its products. “The real question about OpenFlow is not if it provides additional capabilities in any one device but whether it can deliver those capabilities across a heterogeneous network,” says Juniper’s Dave Ward.

The industry excitement around OpenFlow may be exaggerated, and it may be premature. It may trigger major shakeups among networking vendors, bringing important new players onto the field and changing the way established suppliers do business. Only time will tell. OpenFlow does, however, hold the promise of transforming the way we design and control our networks, and that alone makes it worth our attention. (S3631011)

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