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Cumulus Networks 2014 Predictions: The Beginning of a Truly Open Networking World

VMblog 2014 Prediction Series

Virtualization and Cloud executives share their predictions for 2014.  Read them in this VMblog.com series exclusive.

Contributed article by Dinesh Dutt, Chief Scientist at Cumulus Networks

2014: The Beginning of a Truly Open Networking World

This was the year the white box genie got out. The year when most companies vied to announce how open and Linux-focused they are. The year when software really defined networking, if not always the way many predicted.

They say revolution usually begins at the fringe and this proved true with networking too. It began with what are considered niche or fringe customers such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon. If Luke Skywalker and the rebel alliance on the fringe are lucky, 2014 will see the accelerated breakup of what is now a vertically integrated networking world, leaving behind a noticeably weaker and smaller shell that will continue to erode during the coming years. If they're not lucky, then 2014 will be the year the empire strikes back.

In order to see a truly open networking world, opposite of what the empire has positioned in the past as the status quo, we need to be able to choose at multiple levels: the silicon, the hardware, the software and the applications that run on top.

The merchant silicon industry is already beginning to see some competition with seasoned firms like Intel and Mellanox being joined by startups like Centec Networks to provide alternatives to Broadcom. The coming year will see the arrival of open hardware based on some of these boxes.

The hardware industry too is being seeded with a lot of players, from the more established to relative newcomers. The availability of network OSes to power these open hardware boxes, and the initiatives like Facebook's Open Compute Project, ease the entry of companies into this segment. This market will continue to mature rapidly in the coming year, bringing about more CPU choices and more standardized hardware allowing zero touch provisioning of bare metal switches.

I also predict applications will be the new battleground. When software truly starts to define networking, and vendor lock-in will move to software. This is especially true for applications in the cloud. To counter that, open source applications like OpenStack will have to make L3-based network overlays first-class citizens.

Network OS is and will continue to be a key player in this ecosystem. It is the glue that allows for open routers and switches while providing a stable base for applications to run on. This is a fundamental reason to keep the network OS distributed and autonomous, rather than making it a puppet in the hands of a centralized, locked in controller. A true Linux network OS model is crucial in the year ahead, as with this, layers above and below it can change while the management of the infrastructure truly stays open and easy. And, a mature platform built by a vibrant, innovative and responsive community ensures that we can all truly benefit by working on the problems collectively. The year ahead will be crucial for network OS.

Open networking is not a spectator sport. As consumers and end beneficiaries, we can affect the final outcome. If we're deceived by merely a veneer of openness, then the years ahead will reveal that the new networking is just as difficult, inflexible and slow as the old one was. It just won't be immediately apparent. This will be the year we need to work together.

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About the Author

Dinesh Dutt is Chief Scientist at Cumulus Networks. He was a Fellow at Cisco Systems before this. He spent almost 15 years at Cisco Systems working on various key technologies such as improving enterprise L2 networks, SAN networks, design of high end switches and most recently, data center networks. He's a co-author of the TRILL and VxLAN protocols.
Published Friday, December 13, 2013 6:46 AM by David Marshall
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