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OpenFlow - The Programmable Network Revolution

Paul Budde

Over the past few months I have made regular references to OpenFlow. This is an exciting new development that fits in very well with several of the next generation technology developments that we have discussed in some detail over the past few years — new developments such smart cities and smart societies, the internet of things.

Such networks need to operate more on a horizontal level, rather than the usual vertical connection between a computing device and the users. M2M communication will dominate the networks of the future and for that reason alone a much more sophisticated structure of network intelligence is needed. We have outgrown the networks that we are using at the moment, based as they are on the technologies that were available in the 1960s. They have done a terrific job but it is now time to move on. The millions of routers that are dominating these networks have become an impediment to change; they can be compared to what the old mainframes were in computing.

The new concept of programmable networking is known as Software Defined Networks (SDN), a technology concept that has been discussed now for several years. The concept behind this totally changes the nature of the network — from a configuration of devices that are passing messages on to each other based on proprietary controlled software embedded in these devices, to one where these devices are independently managed within an open network and where the hardware is split from the software. The software is then deployed in a different, independent and more central way in data centres that will allow for a more intelligent way of managing the overall network (instead of managing individual software/hardware integrated devices within the network). This virtualisation of the network is, of course, a radically different approach and requires an industry transformation.

The benefits are worth it:

  • there is much greater control of traffic management over the network;
  • there is much more flexibility regarding the increasingly different number of requirements for all the different activities that are taking place in all the different parts of the network;
  • there are higher levels of transparency which give customers (corporates) more control over what happens with their applications;
  • possibilities will exist to include more targeted and much more sophisticated levels of security and privacy;
  • there are lower operational costs.

OpenFlow is the protocol that facilitates the implementation of SDNs. It creates virtual networks that are ideal for collaboration, and at the same time it considerably reduces the cost of infrastructure. Google recently re-engineered its network based on 'OpenFlow'.

The Open Networking Foundation is the key promoter of these concepts and they are widely supported by the industry.

By Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication. Paul is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located here.

Related topics: Internet Protocol

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