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OpenFlow Controllers: Implementing SDN in the Data Center
If you ask 10 different networking experts to define software-defined networking (SDN), you'll likely get 10 different answers, but all of them will tell you two things: You can't have a software-defined network without some kind of centralized control, and OpenFlow does not equal SDN.

The whole point of SDN is to help service providers and enterprises accomplish tasks such as network configuration and provisioning, load balancing and security policy enforcement more quickly, more efficiently and less expensively through automation. The goal is to get away from having to program all the switches and routers in a network manually, and that means centralized software control is necessary.

Another critical distinction to make when talking SDN is that the terms OpenFlow and SDN are not interchangeable. OpenFlow is just one networking protocol among many that can be used to communicate between a centralized controller and the network infrastructure, but it is important because huge data center and network operators are driving its development.

It's too early to say that the market for a stand-alone SDN controller will be profitable. Controller functionality could end up getting bundled in with the applications themselves, which is how some software startups are approaching the space. And apps such as virtualization, load balancing, network management, firewalls and intrusion detection are likely where the real money lies anyway. But the necessity of controller functionality somewhere in the software-defined network is what's behind this initial SDN battle of the OpenFlow controllers.

Perhaps the most exciting and encouraging thing about SDN is the fact that through the ONF network operators and service providers are finally in the driver's seat and not dependent only on vendors for innovation. That's a place they've longed to be for decades. "We feel like we are part of an open movement that democratizes information technology," ONF's Pitt said.

Data center operators should expect to see plenty of activity in the controller market during the coming year. There will be more mergers and acquisitions as hardware vendors look to acquire the pieces of the SDN puzzle they don't have. Startups will also come out of stealth to explain in detail where they fit in an OpenFlow environment, and incumbent equipment vendors likely will be forced to incorporate OpenFlow into their product portfolios whether they want to or not.

We may still be a long way from the day when network operators and their customers can simply visit an app store to turn up services, but the promise of that kind of rich ecosystem of applications that can help businesses operate more efficiently is finally in sight.

OpenFlow Controllers: Implementing SDN in the Data Center examines the OpenFlow protocol, how it works, what's driving its adoption and where it's headed. It also compares controllers from five vendors, all of whom would like to see their technology become the preferred platform for developing SDN applications like the data center's first killer app: virtual networks.
Sample research data from the report is shown in the excerpt below:
Table of Contents (hri1212_toc.pdf)

The controller is basically centralized intelligence in a software-defined network. It acts as a kind of external operating system for a network of switches and routers and serves to decouple control plane functionality from data plane functionality. The control plane is the part of the switch or router that's in charge of the logic behind mapping network topology, running network protocols and ultimately instructing the data plane, or the switching fabric and port processors of a device. In a traditional network, control plane functionality is embedded in the operating system of the network device. But in a virtual network, the control plane can be a hypervisor on a server.
Companies profiled in this report include Big Switch Networks Inc.; Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) (NYSE: HPQ); International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) (NYSE: IBM); NEC Corp. (TYO: 6701); and Nicira Inc., recently acquired by VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW).
Total pages: 25
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