While visiting the Computer History Museum in Mountain View this weekend, I got a chance to see some of the first Ethernet concept sketches created at Xerox PARC in the mid-70s. At the time it was an experimental project limited to the Xerox Alto computers.

As you can see in the picture below, the first Ethernet cards and the mediums have significantly changed over the last decades. Most of the progress happened during a first wave of adoption in the mid 1980s then a second wave came with the popularization of personal computers in the mid 1990s associated with the rise of the WorldWide Web. These waves of innovation centered primarily on media and hardware, “speeds and feeds”.

Last week I had the chance to attend the Open Networking Summit, an event dedicated to OpenFlow and Software-Defined Networking (SDN), and it became clear to all that we were at the beginning of another cycle in the networking industry, one focused on software. While 50 people were expected for the tutorial sessions and 150 attendees for the summit, more than 200 people registered for the tutorials and more than 600 for the summit. The organizers had to rethink the whole event to accommodate this massive subscription (which they did extremely well).

When a topic like Software-Defined Networking attracts so many people from different backgrounds (network managers, architects, CTOs, server administrators, business development etc.) and companies; customers with different types of networks (WAN, campus, large data centers, private cloud etc.), research labs, major networking and virtualization vendors, smaller players (from board manufacturers to load balancing software) at its first event, you know you are onto something big…

SDN is not a new concept – it was first defined around 2007 and named in 2009 -, but it has gained significant momentum over the last few years. Networking has been the foundation that made the growth of the Internet to 2 billions users possible. In turn, each user requested access to more applications and this drove exponential demand for data computing and storage. Virtualization helped relieve these pressures, but has not reached the same proficiency in the networking space. Networks have to be more agile, efficient and dynamic and they need it fast to keep up with demand.

My biggest takeaway from last week’s event was the audience coming to the collective realization that to successfully deliver software-defined networks would take a strong eco-system. We needed to leverage each industry player’s expertise to allow for solutions that would answer such a variety of requirements in usage and deployments. During the tutorial sessions led by Kyle Forster, Big Switch Networks’ co-founder, some of the brightest minds and early adopters in the networking industry shared best practices on OpenFlow implementations with the audience. During the rest of the summit, many demos took place; several were based on open source implementations or leveraged multi-vendor environments. Big Switch Networks controller was used in at least two demos from switching and virtualization vendors.

The Open Networking Foundation has already standardized a main enabler of SDN: OpenFlow, the protocol between L2/L3 switches and a controller, an entity allowing for better network control and programmability. But a lot still has to be done to deliver the full vision of SDN.

With a team equally balanced between networking and virtualization expertise and including major OpenFlow contributors (Robert Sherwood was the lead author of FlowVisor, the first equivalent of an “hypervisor” for OpenFlow controllers), Big Switch Networks is in a unique position to shape the future of SDN by contributing to its standardization, developing solutions in partnership with key industry players, giving back to the open source community and enabling customers to do things they never thought were possible with their network.

We are definitely onto something big…



If you want to learn more about the topics discussed at the Open Networking Summit, I recommend the NetworkWorld articles from Art Fewell:

And if you want to learn more about OpenFlow and SDN, last week I have tweeted about several excellent articles @iguis

I look forward to seeing you at the OpenFlow Symposium organized by Packet Pushers and Tech Field Day