Over the last 20 years, generations of networking startups have been spawned to address the inherent shortcomings of L2 and L3 networking architectures. It’s not that Ethernet and TCP/IP are broken, rather that they were invented in a time (1960’s & 70s) when the demands on the network were dramatically less complex than today.  If you look back, you can see this trend very clearly.

Figure 1 – History of New Product Categories that Resolved Shortcomings of L2/L3 Networking

L2/l3 feature-appliance category chart





The startups that were spawned to address these challenges faced significant challenges developing and delivering these innovative new platforms. Each new appliance required the development of an entirely new hardware and software architecture. Many required new ASICs and other proprietary hardware systems. Most required the development of a new, proprietary operating system.  All required the development of application functionality that was specific to that appliance and operating system. In many cases, these startups were very successful in driving dramatically new network application value, but with far too much complexity in developing and delivering the technology.

Prediction: The Networking 2.0 Generation Will Accelerate Innovation and Simplify Network Operations

Fast forward to the Open SDN era… The most fundamental value associated with the transition to an Open SDN architecture is the creation of a universal network data plane abstraction using industry standard protocols, which enables a common policy definition for all data plane devices that can be addressed as a single network fabric. When combined with open, RESTful APIs northbound of the controller, an Open SDN can be programmed with high-level software languages like Python – eliminating the need to use cumbersome CLI and intimately understand all the vendor specific, nuanced implementation details. Importantly, new networking applications can be delivered to the market without the complexity of building, developing and maintaining new network appliance hardware and software.  

With an Open SDN architecture, conventional L2 and L3 networking constructs becomes programmable resources like servers and other IT devices, and entrepreneurs can build new network applications right on top of the Open SDN.  Programming functionality via static CLI configuration changes becomes a relic of the past! And, users can manage, debug and monitor these new network applications from a unified interface, driving dramatically lower cost of ownership.

Open Systems Analogy: LAMP Stack and Apple iOS/Android are Great Examples

In the IT industry, we’ve seen this trend before.  The LAMP stack (Linux + Apache + MySQL + PHP) provided a complete and open programming environment that accelerated a large ecosystem of developers that have delivered countless commercial software solutions. Similarly, the emergence of two highly programmable mobile operating systems (one open, one not-so-much but with a publish API) has driven the rapid emergence of a massive ecosystem of partner applications that have dramatically changed the way use mobile devices. Over 1MM mobile apps have been built atop the published Android and iOS operating system interfaces in a short few years!

Open system architectures (open standards, published APIs and/or open source code) accelerate service delivery from the IT community. They drive common architectural standards that simplify development for software developers and management for users. And, an open system architecture also creates a common development and management environment that creates consistency and simplicity for developers and end users that don’t need to learn a new environment for every application. 

The promise of the Open SDN architecture is Networking Gen 2.0. We predict that an Open SDN architecture will similarly accelerate a new generation of network application developers in the same way that the LAMP Stack and open mobile OS did in the past.  An Open SDN will accelerate a whole range of network applications that program and automate network operations in ways never previously conceived. An Open SDN will accelerate a community of startups to build new network applications to drive new customer value with a rate of change and velocity that was just not possible during the first generation of networking innovation.  We are already seeing the beginning of this trend through our partner ecosystem.  Welcome to Networking Gen 2.0!

– Jason Matlof