SDN shift drags router, switch sales
According to the advocates at the annual Open Networking Summit, the communications industry is in the early days of a transition to software-defined networking (SDN), which aims to ease the work of building and running large networks. It does this by moving network tasks from today's complex and proprietary ASICs and APIs to standard interfaces, merchant chips and open-source software. However, an analyst has revealed a decline in router and switch sales, which may be attributed to large buyers retooling for the technology.
"We're at the beginning if the S curve [in SDN] with Google, Facebook, Amazon and NTT adopting and a few others actively deploying it, but it will be several years before it is mainstream," said Guru Parulkar, the chair of the event and executive director at the Open Networking Research Center that works on SDN.
"We will build network infrastructure with white boxes running merchant silicon, open-source network OS and services. This will not happen overnight, but it will come."
In the SDN vision, many tasks will be handled as applications running on Linux servers, said Dan Pitt, executive director of the Open Networking Foundation behind the OpenFlow protocol: "The future of the network is Ethernet, x86 and OpenFlow; nothing is controlled by a single party, it's all community based."
The so-called northbound API on which these network applications will be built will need to emerge from the industry, said Pitt. However, the ONF is working on a hardware abstraction layer that he believes could become a standard for addressing SDN switch chips.
"Mellanox was the first with open [switch chip] APIs, [but] these APIs still describe their proprietary SDK; it's hard to innovate on something someone can change at will," he said.
Mellanox made its API open-source as part of its work on an open network switch for the Facebook-led Open Compute Project, which Najam Ahmad, a technical manager for Facebook's data center group, described at the event.
Startup Cumulus Networks contributed to the Facebook effort the equivalent of "a boot loader that will find and boot whatever software we want on a switch; that's the disaggregation we are looking for," Ahmad said.
The ONF developed and released at the event its own SDN monitoring app, called SimpleTap, as an example of things to come. HP, IBM and NEC already have commercial versions of such apps, Pitt noted.
At the event, a market researcher reported "a double-digit sequential decline in carrier router/switch revenue rather than the usual budget flush [in Q4], with weakness coming mostly from Verizon and AT&T, among the global leaders of SDN activities.
"Carriers of all sizes [are proceeding] cautiously with router and switch spending, in part because they are trialing SDN or just beginning to figure out how to proceed with SDN," said Michael Howard, principal analyst and co-founder of Infonetics Research, noting the Q4 is usually an indicator for the current year and sometimes a bellwether for the future.
Overall worldwide service provider router and switch revenues, including IP edge and core routers and carrier Ethernet switches, was $14.5 billion, up just 2% from 2012, Howard said. Fourth-quarter carrier router/switch revenue is down 4% from the same period a year ago, he added.
Cisco, Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent, and Juniper remained in their dominant positions in 2013, together taking 83% of global carrier router and switch revenue, Infonetics reported. Their systems are most at risk for disruption by the SDN trend.
- Rick Merritt
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