OpenFlow and beyond: future opportunities in networking

1Executive Summary

The world of networking is changing, a fact underscored by noteworthy developments in recent months and two big announcements last week. Embrane, a company that builds tools for virtualized networks, announced an $18 million funding round, and Big Switch, another startup that makes software-defined networking tools, announced the availability of its first product.

Driving this change are shifting traffic patterns, which in turn are being caused by a change in the computing paradigm to more widely distributed webscale systems and the economic need for the networking world to catch up to where the computing and server world is today.

These factors are steering the industry toward programmable networks. That’s a shift from the old way of keeping the intelligence inside the hardware that moves the packets around to a new way of letting the switches move the packets, putting the intelligence on a commodity server.

One way of doing this is the much-discussed OpenFlow protocol, which allows a server to tell a switch what to do. Once it becomes real, network virtualization can solve some of the technical and economic problems associated with the current way data centers are designed, as well as enable new applications and businesses.

All of this has huge implications for vendors such as Cisco, Juniper, Arista, Dell and Intel, but it also could become the foundation for an entire new ecosystem of startups and value creation, much like what the creation of the hypervisor did for computing. In this research note we look at what network virtualization is, why we’re moving toward it, what OpenFlow is and what the opportunities are for companies, both large and small, beyond that technology.

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