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June 24, 2014

Brocade on the future of software defined networking

Kelly Herrell, Brocade's VP and GM of software networking, talks about competition, product development and the need for SDN.

By Amy-Jo Crowley

1. Both network function virtualisation (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN) have been vying for attention in the networking space. How do you compare the two?

NFV is the idea of taking the software that’s inside of a network device and being able to use it as a virtual machine running on servers. It’s taking the same functionality, doing it all in software and running it on servers and that’s at the heart of NFV. Now, SDN goes one step further and says ‘see that big expansive network with all those different devices in it, I wish there was a single place I could go to control all of it, instead of having to go to each one discreetly to manage it’. So SDN is about how to simplify the management of a complex network, and NFV is a new type of network infrastructure to be managed.

They don’t necessarily need each other, but they are highly complementary. And if you glue the two together, you get one plus one equals three, definitely.

2. What are the main benefits for enterprises with SDN?

Networking is always the third leg of the stool between compute and storage and networking is always the hardest change and relatively ridiculously expensive compared to modern compute. All you have to do is look at Cisco’s gross margins to realise that there is only one company really making a lot of money. This is very expensive because it is very old school, continuing to use black boxes when modern software solutions are available. So what SDN can do for the enterprise is to give them more agility in how they advance and change their network to meet their business requirements. Right now it’s very slow.

3. Doesn’t Cisco already have a number of SDN offerings?

Not really. I’d challenge you to roll through any of their press releases in the past six month and see if they ever really talk about SDN. They’re very concerned about the world moving towards software and not hardware because they make their business selling a lot of hardware and so they started trying to coin a different phrase called Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI)…ACI is an architecture that they can draw on a piece of paper that when you implement it, you implement by buying all sorts of Cisco hardware

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Their intent is to redirect away from software and say the way that you solve the problem is use of these hardware boxes.

4. Do you think that the business model its using is one that will survive in the future as more enterprises become aware of the benefits of SDN?

I will say that I don’t think history has been kind to companies that did not adapt their business model aggressively enough. Their failure to adapt is what created the opportunity for rivals who were very nimble and did come out with different business models to succeed.

5. How do you find competing with the likes of Juniper, VMware and other SDN providers?

They’re all focused on different areas. VMware is focused only on the enterprise and they struggle because they’ve alienated many partners in the process…It’s really been more talk than implementation and that’s because their technology is extremely immature.

6. How does Brocade distinguish itself from all these players in the market?

We truly espouse an open network platform, which is openly interchangeable with other parts. We have our services layer, which is our router, firewall, VPN and load balancer, which run on any virtualised environment. And if you want to run them on VMware we do, if you want to run them on Microsoft we do that too, so we’re totally open and platform neutral.

Above that, our controller is based on OpenDaylight which is a massive open-source project, not a closed proprietary system. And then north of that is the orchestration, and there we’re intensely focused on OpenStack, which is another very huge open-source project. So our platform is truly open and we’re focusing this platform aggressively on the service providers space because they are the ones who have the most urgent needs right now to transform their networks.

7. Can we expect any announcements from you in the near future?

Our announcements get busy again around August and September. You’ll also see a lot of things that are partnership related between now and then.

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