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Top ten 2013 SDN news: Juniper open sources; quest for SDN standards

In SDN news this year, we saw demand for open networking, along with the continued quest for SDN standards and a common controller.

Editor’s note: In part one of this article on top ten SDN news stories of 2013, we saw the battle between Cisco and VMware begin to brew, the emergence of white box switching and open networking, and a host of hardware vendors laying software plans.

This year marked real progress for open networking and SDN standards development. While Cisco and VMware launching SDN and networking virtualization strategies stole much of the spotlight, organizations like the Open Networking Foundation and OpenDaylight made real progress on OpenFlow development and a common controller. Here are the final five stories in our roundup of top ten SDN news stories of 2013.

Juniper takes its SDN open source, but how open is it?

Juniper beat both VMware and Cisco to the punch in SDN, launching its Contrail network virtualization/software overlay strategy last spring. Then, in the fall, Juniper said it would open source the Contrail overlay software under an Apache 2.0 license.

Contrail includes a controller, an analytics engine and vRouter software for hypervisor endpoints, and its network virtualization can run on top of any physical infrastructure.

Taking Contrail open source lets customers customize their networks -- a factor lauded by analysts. But going open source doesn't necessarily mean pushing open standards or a multi-vendor model of SDN. Juniper very notably didn't incorporate OpenFlow. Instead, Contrail uses the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol as a southbound protocol to communicate with hypervisor hosts at the edge of the overlay, and it uses Border Gateway Protocol to scale out to multiple controllers. This basically means users would have to implement a fully Contrail-SDN environment.

OpenFlow may no longer be en vogue, but it's not out of favor

Just a few years ago, SDN was nearly synonymous with OpenFlow, the southbound protocol that lets centralized SDN controllers granularly direct traffic between ports.

Then Nicira founder Martin Casado -- the creator of OpenFlow -- claimed researchers had "gotten it wrong." Network virtualization would be driven by software overlays and directed to by virtual switches making decisions at the network's edge. In that case, why bother with OpenFlow? 

But OpenFlow may be the open standard that would enable a multi-vendor environment. Using one southbound protocol, eventually any OpenFlow controller could talk to any OpenFlow-friendly switch.

Casado's proclamation didn't stop the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) from advancing OpenFlow, which has faced some stability and scalability challenges. This year the ONF released specifications for OpenFlow 1.3, and plenty of vendors launched solid OpenFlow-based SDN switching and controller portfolios, including NEC, Hewlett-Packard and Big Switch. What's more; researchers are working on ironing out the kinks in OpenFlow and developing it to work across physical network domains and in the optical layer.

OpenDaylight says we can all get along -- or at least use a common controller

Last spring a rare coalition of competing vendors founded OpenDaylight, an organization that would foster open source SDN technology collaboration and development.

The first order of business would be developing a universal SDN controller with open application programming interfaces (APIs) that would allow engineers to create universal network applications and services. Within months, the organization approved its first controller code and began accepting contributions for network services and application add-ons.

Founding members include Cisco Systems, Big Switch Networks, Brocade, Citrix, Ericsson, IBM, Juniper Networks, Microsoft and Red Hat, but anyone is free to contribute code and participate in committees.

From the start, critics said OpenDaylight would be unfairly dominated by heavy hitters like Cisco pushing their own strategies. Big Switch became so convinced of the inequalities at OpenDaylight that it abandoned the effort.

But many vendors have reported their contributions are playing key roles in the final controller code to be approved and released in early 2014. More importantly, OpenDaylight has provided researchers and testing engineers with a way to easily download and begin playing with SDN control.

Intel, your friendly neighborhood SDN vendor

Intel got behind SDN this year, announcing a pair of reference designs for white box switches and servers.

The Intel Open Network Platform is based on the company's Ethernet Switch 6700 series and Communications Chipset 89xx series, and will enable manufacturers to build top-of-rack switches that support OpenFlow 1.0 and tunneling protocols like Virtual Extensible LAN and network virtualization using Generic Routing Encapsulation.

Intel also revealed its Data Plane Development Kit, a new programmable forwarding module and API for Open Virtual Switch that will make it easier for original design manufacturers to develop OpenFlow-friendly switches and network virtualization platforms.

Network functions virtualization becomes a reality

Read the first five top SDN news stories of 2013

The battle between Cisco and VMware; hardware vendors go software.

The service provider world pushed full steam into network functions virtualization (NFV) this year.

NFV lets providers shift network functions from expensive carrier-grade appliances to virtual machines that live on industry-standard hardware. NFV aims to reduce both the cost and complexity of service provider networks. The Industry Specification Group of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute has started standardizing NFV. Simultaneously, CloudNFV, a consortium of vendors, began the process of creating NFV prototypes.

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