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Brocade SDN and NFV could replace routers with standard x86 boxes

In the Brocade SDN and NFV story, service providers and enterprises will trade in physical routers and network service appliances for virtual machines running on x86 servers, managed by SDN controllers and OpenStack.

Brocade has 50 SDN and NFV trials underway in tier-one service providers worldwide, CEO Lloyd Carney said at the company's investor day in New York City Wednesday.

Brocade will continue to place focus on SDN and NFV, and will see the technology in production deployment in 2015 with "measureable revenue in FY16," Carney said.

While Brocade's Fibre Channel SAN business remains central to its growth in the coming year, executives spotlighted SDN in the enterprise and service provider by timing the release of the OpenDaylight-based Brocade Vyatta controller for SDN and the acquisition of network analytics firm Vistapointe for NFV in carrier networks to coincide with the company's investor day.

Low-end routers will go the way of cameras

Carney said that virtualization will eliminate the need for low-end routers and that other edge network devices like cell phones displaced the need for cheap cameras.

Brocade expects network operators to replace routers and other Layer 4-7 appliances, such as load balancing and firewalls, with virtual instances running on Intel-powered x86 servers.

The idea is to start replacing appliances at the edge, but eventually move to the center, virtualizing even very complex routers, said vice president of software networking Kelly Herrell.

"Telefonica took our virtual router and put it on a server and ran performance tests at an 80 gigabits per-second line rate with a virtual machine," Herrell told analysts. "Nobody knew there was that much latent power on the network inside of servers to leverage."

As network features are virtualized, engineers will use a combination of OpenStack orchestration, OpenDaylight-based control and a maze of virtualized routers and SDN-supportive switches, to allow for automated network provisioning.

"They don't have to wait on hardware overprovisioning," said Herrell. "The agility gives them the ability to come up with new services within months not years."

Carriers are especially desperate to find new revenue streams for mobile services now that over-the-top applications, such as VoIP, are cannibalizing their business models. Jason Nolet, Brocade vice president of switching, routing and analytics, said the network analytics capabilities Brocade acquired with Vistapointe, along with automated service provisioning, will help service providers find those new revenue opportunities. They'll be able to spot congestion, but also to provide content and bandwidth as needed in a mobile world where a wide array of new devices and vehicles are connected.

Brocade network virtualization depends on Intel

Brocade is depending on Intel x86 architecture for this transition to virtual networking.

"We are making this pivot standing on Intel's shoulders," said Carney. Intel has ramped up its networking focus adding a development kit that brings network intelligence to x86 processors.

Next Steps

AT&T crafts its own NFV strategy

SDN and NFV blooms in carrier networks

Where SDN and NFV meet

Dig Deeper on Software-defined networking

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Seems like a great idea. Are they all new boxes, or are they finding ways to repurpose outdated PCs?