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Software-defined networking (SDN) stands out as the singular concept that is both hard to define and hard to stop talking about. Dozens of companies that provide enterprise and cloud infrastructure want to separate the software elements that control the network from the network hardware itself.
The big idea--and this is a classic tech industry argument--is that you can accomplish more by separating the operating system from the applications, the operating system from the hardware, and, in cloud computing, the server from the service. Based on the conversations I had last week at Interop, my feeling is that SDN--of which the Open Networking Foundation's OpenFlow is one example--is nothing more than an industry uniting against entrenched powers and looking to disrupt the hold of one or two vendors that are so dominant that network innovation seems to move at the speed of their product cycles.
Would OpenFlow have momentum if cloud service providers felt like the top networking infrastructure vendors were listening to their customers and building switches and routers in a way that gave them control and the flexibility to create and provide new services?
Is it surprising that Amazon.com, Google and some the earliest examples of major public cloud providers all wrote their own software and network stacks and used non-traditional infrastructure to start providing network services to their customers? Why? Couldn't they find a vendor to give them a cloud solution that was priced with cloud economics in mind?
This isn't to say that the networking infrastructure providers aren't cloud-capable. We ran a monster test of various Cisco Systems cloud capabilities and you can see for yourself that Cisco does have a cloud(y) story. Cisco wants to give service providers the tools to handle delivery of any kind of content to any kind of device, where and when subscribers demand it.
But do service providers always want all those tools to be Cisco tools, delivered the way Cisco wants to build them, on Cisco's product development schedules, with Cisco's software controlling every aspect of every service? A lot will, actually. But what if some of those providers want to know if there's another way?
See why NEC's network controller and eight other products stood out at Interop 2012 in the new, all-digital Best of Interop issue of InformationWeek. (Free registration required.)