Brad Casemore wrote an excellent post about the raising tension between the traditional networking vendors and the ONF, or rather between the “traditional” and “new” ways of doing things in networking, i.e. “distributed” vs. “software-defined”. In this blog post, I would like to take a stab at the questions of “what might have contributed to this?” and “what are the some of implications to mid-market Service Providers and Enterprises?“.
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While there would inevitably be many constituents, I am of an opinion that the best way to miss an upcoming disruption is to listen to your best customers. They are largely happy with your products (or they would have walked), and in most cases, when confronted with changes, will inevitably frame their wishes and desires for improving things around the ways they have done things traditionally. This is the very case of the quote that is attributed to H. Ford, where he allegedly says that if he asked his customers what they wanted, they would have told him it was a faster horse.
So, what’s up with the ONF, then?
What is different about the guys driving the ONF today? I think it is simple – for them it was straight-forward that the networking-related problem they have on hand with the massive cloud service delivery platforms cannot be solved using existing technology, or minor or even major tweaks to such technology. The moment such realisation sets in, it becomes clear that starting from a clean sheet is the way to go.
When a problem is defined on a clean sheet, it is much easier to think in terms of what it is that you are trying to achieve and to select the criteria important to the ultimate success of the undertaking. Vision is not clouded by the rut, and ways forward that deviate significantly from the established but fit perfectly the particular job to be done can be discovered.
That sounds great, right?
One word of caution to this tale, however: while these new solutions may greatly benefit those who developed them, it does not necessarily mean that they will perfectly fit the needs of others, in our case, for example, enterprises of various sizes. What ensues then is the confusion and the inevitable hammering of a square peg into a round hole. Because the new solution is so radically better to those who’s business it fits which makes them highly motivated to drive it, and because these guys are so large and so visible, this something that was conceived to meet a very specific set of needs becomes perhaps a little bit overhyped.
To make is clear, I have no doubt in benefits of OpenFlow and SDNs. What I am slightly concerned about is that the approach that is taken to their development may bring more confusion than benefits to those not intimately and closely involved in developing these approaches to networking.
If I’m an Enterprise and a customer of HP, for example; does their announcement of support for OF across whole raft of their switching platforms mean that “I’ve been doing it all wrong” till now? Or is it a plot to extract more money out of me by selling me new software (to “define my networking”), and consulting services to “transform my outdated infrastructure to fit the new bright future”? Will this new approach deliver its promised benefits, or am I too small to realise them and better off just sticking to the ways I’ve done things in the past? After all, if there’s no clear proof that it is my set of needs that is being addressed, how can I be sure? After all, each major shift in thinking is not at all “free” – just look at the adoption rate of IPv6!
It is quite clear that the networking is ripe for disruption. However, what is important for industry behemoths is not necessarily exactly the same as what’s important for the vast majority of Enterprises, and telecommunications and IT Service Providers who target them.
I strongly believe that there is a lot of gold to be dug out in the mid-market. Those Vendors who will realise it first and manage to take the “clean sheet” opportunity discovery approach to that population, are bound to find themselves (a) ahead of the curve; and (b) not having to confuse their customer base while trying to convince them that their new square peg fits perfectly into the round hole that their customer has to fill.