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SDN promises centralized management, but we've heard this all before

SDN's promises of evolutionary changes to the industry sound eerily familiar to networking security expert Michele Chubirka. Should we believe them?

At Interop in Las Vegas this year, there was a virtual deluge of vendors touting their respective Software Defined Networking-flavored products. I kept experiencing a vague feeling of déjà vu, of having seen this all before, but couldn't figure out why. Then as I sat in a product briefing I remembered why this all seemed so familiar: the wireless controller market.

Wireless controllers are what I like to call proto-SDN. When vendors released the first lightweight access points with centralized management systems and controllers, it was akin to achieving networking nirvana. Centralized management, control and visibility -- all in a handy-dandy Web interface. What's more, it supported IETF standards like lightweight access point protocol (LWAPP) and control and provisioning of wireless access points (CAPWAP).

I'm a bit skeptical regarding the evolutionary changes SDN promises the industry. We've seen it all before. The industry had its chance with wireless and blew it.

Michele Chubirka

Could life get any better than this? I raised my head and laughed heartily at those wired engineers with their painfully antiquated command line interfaces. I pitied them and their lack of power over their domain. I, Master of the Radio, could configure, troubleshoot, secure and manage my network without (almost) ever having to leave my desk, eating bonbons while those plebian wired engineers endured the drudgery of that backward hardware platform.

Paying for my overconfidence

I would pay for my hubris. Yes, I could manage and control everything centrally, but at the cost of my independence. You see, while vendors proclaimed their support of open standards, I learned it was mostly fantasy. The harsh reality was that there was no real interoperability between vendors' wireless hardware, so once you invested in one product, switching to another meant a complete forklift or running multiple systems in parallel. Or let's say I wanted to use some access points (AP) from another vendor for certain features or capabilities: maybe the APs were particularly good in high-density environments. Well, I was out of luck with fully managing that device unless I installed a parallel ecosystem. Oh, I always had SNMP, but after tasting imported caviar, why would I go back to domestic?

And this is why I'm a bit skeptical regarding the evolutionary changes SDN promises the industry. We've seen it all before. The industry had its chance with wireless and blew it. Will today's SDN promises of transcendent centralized management and control bear fruit, or will they just be another precursor to vendor lock-in? After my wireless experience, I feel like I'm being offered leftovers. The question is whether they'll be as yummy as that turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving or as unappetizing as two-day-old pizza for breakfast.

About the author: Michele Chubirka, aka “Mrs. Y,” is a recovering Unix engineer with a focus on network security. Likes long walks in hubsites, traveling to security conferences and spending extended hours in the Bat Cave. Believes that every problem can be solved with a "for" loop. She also hosts a podcast called Healthy Paranoia, a security feed of Packetpushers. You can find her blogs and podcasts at or When not blogging or podcasting, can be found using up her 15 minutes in the Twittersphere or  Google+ as @MrsYisWhy.

This was last published in June 2013

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