10 Myths about SDN, NFV and Data Center Switches: Debunked

By Sujal Das | Aug 16, 2016

Part 1

The rate of innovation in networking continues at a fast pace – new networking technologies and problem-solving approaches are evolving, and with them many opinions and articles are being published. SDN and NFV are at the heart of these invigorating discussions. While most of the ideas and opinions are facts, the diversity of approaches and industry events sometimes lead us to myths.

Data center switches (both physical and virtual) are one of the foundational elements of SDN and NFV. In this series of blogs, I will present my views on ten such myths about data center switches.

Myth #1: The market for high density data center top of rack (TOR) switches is starving for programmable switches.

I have read recent articles and opinions implying that switch silicon used in data center TOR switches should be programmable so that these switches can be repurposed on the fly to do what data center operators want. But the state of the data center switch industry (as serviced by merchant switch silicon products from established vendors like Broadcom and newcomers like Cavium, who have silicon that customers can test and/or deploy today) is not as bad as these opinions portray. After all, the largest data centers deploy available merchant switch silicon and no one can deny that these operators have been able to push efficiency and scale to limits never reached before. These operators have adopted and successfully deployed the most advanced forms of SDN and NFV, and the growth of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are testaments to the success of these approaches.

I do not believe the industry has suffered because established merchant switch silicon vendors lacked the conviction to innovate, as some articles imply. Rather, it is more about real and volume market needs, the laws of physics related to silicon cost and power, and most importantly delivering efficiencies in ways that matter.

Netronome’s approach to bringing innovation and programmability into the data center networking infrastructure is complementary to the above successful trends. The features in virtual switches used in servers have evolved rapidly, for example network virtualization, security, load balancing, traffic engineering and analytics. These switches are open software-based and hence their evolution is easy and synonymous with the benefits of SDN. As hardware-based networking switches have evolved (reducing port-to-port latency and cost per port and bandwidth), the pressure to innovate has shifted to the server side, requiring high performance SmartNICs like Netronome’s, which can evolve at the speed of software.

Myth #2: There was a significant market need for OpenFlow-based SDN features, but market leading switch vendors wanted a status quo and stalled much needed progress.

Stay tuned for part 2 in this series.

Read the Blog, "10 Myths about SDN, NFV and Data Center Switches: Debunked: Part 2" by Sujal Das.
Read the Blog, "10 Myths about SDN, NFV and Data Center Switches: Debunked: Part 3" by Sujal Das.