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Big Switch Networks CTO Rob Sherwood on SDN in 2015: The time is now

Art Fewell | March 10, 2015
I recently had the chance to sit down with Rob Sherwood, CTO of Big Switch Networks to get his insight on whats hot with SDN for 2015.

[Art] I think that's, especially for the people who are just getting into OpenFlow, or just getting their first hands on experiences with them; that's a really powerful analogy. In networking, we are perhaps the most risk averse of a lot of people who work in IT because everything goes down when the network goes down. No amount of high availability you build into your important app matters when the network is down. We are familiar, though, if you've been in networking with these big chassis switches, we've used them a lot for a lot of years. If you look at like you said in your point how those work, you have the forwarding decisions and essentially the forwarding database managed by the supervisor and it, especially in modern chassis where you're using distributed forwarding it's going to cache essentially the decision engine on each individual line card. That line card goes ahead and makes the forwarding decisions assuming it has an entry.

When you take OpenFlow, it's the same thing minus the chassis, just like you said. I wanted to highlight that point. Anyone who's feeling uncomfortable with the idea of OpenFlow, it really is a very comfortable dynamic. It's a very similar type of ... There's a lot of new things about it, but there's a lot of comfort points and ways that's it's similar to traditional architecture as well for those getting into it. Do you have any other guidance for people who are just getting into OpenFlow to come to wrap their heads around the significance and how it'll impact their operations?

[Rob] Another big one that people talk to me about is support. People get a little bit concerned about support with this disaggregated model where you might buy the hardware from one company and the software from another. I tell people, "Talk to your server people. Ask them how they buy their servers." The server people will have the same problem and it's not a problem. That is to say, you can, if you want a single vendor you can to pay for that. If you want to buy both from the channel, you can do that. You want to buy it from a reseller, you can do that. If you want to buy direct from the hardware manufacturer and have them support the software, that also works as well. Everyone is running around saying everything is different, the sky is falling. I actually spend a lot of my time trying to say, actually, this is pretty much the same thing we've been doing already just only networking is a bit different.

You mentioned briefly, everybody is worried, network engineers are very conservative because when the network goes down everything goes down. That is the strictly the function of the extremely tight artificial coupling of how the software is set up. If we actually build networks the way that we build distributed web applications, we wouldn't have that problem. That's a lot of what the Big Switch is trying to do, is actually build these things a little bit more like distributed web applications so that if you lose a piece, it's not that big a deal.


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