BlueCat Networks' Michael Hyatt sees bright future for SDN as Hewlett-Packard expands its offerings at Interop New York. ITWC Photo
BlueCat Networks' Michael Hyatt sees bright future for SDN as Hewlett-Packard expands its offerings at Interop New York. ITWC Photo

NEW YORK–One of the biggest boosters of the nascent software-defined networking technology is the head of a Canadian company that doesn’t make switches or servers.

“It’s the largest fundamental change in the network since, well, you name it,” Michael Hyatt, executive chairman and co-founder of Toronto-based BlueCat Networks, which makes IP address management solutions for network access control, told reporters here Tuesday.

SDN, which creates a software control plane to automatically manage all network devices, is still largely in the pilot phase. Few enterprises use it in production. At the moment, carriers and service providers are more enthusiastic about it.

But Hyatt and an executive from IP telephony solutions maker ShoreTel Inc. appeared with officials from Hewlett-Packard Co. here Tuesday at the New York edition of the Interop networking conference to tout SDN’s potential and endorse HP’s approach.

BlueCat and ShoreTel were among 40 IT companies that said this week they are starting to develop applications for HP’s upcoming SDN controller that will be made available through  HP’s SDN App Store.

HP said Monday that to encourage enterprises to get behind its efforts it is releasing a software development kit to create, test and validate SDN apps for its Virtual Application Networks controller.  It will also offer services to help network operators implement SDN, and to help application developers. Both the software kit and some support services will be available next month.

The controller will link to HP’s OpenFlow-enabled switches and routers. Some 60 of those devices – including 10 routers announced Monday – have been released.

The app store will go live early next year. The VAN controller, priced at US$495, will be available for purchase later this month.

SDN is one of the buzzwords around the conference, in part because there isn’t a network equipment company that doesn’t have an SDN strategy. However, Zeus Kerravala, an industry analyst, says organizations are still waiting for them to put forward enterprise use cases.

Hyatt says one of the reasons he’s enthusiastic about HP’s strategy is that it is aimed at the enterprise, pointing to the HP app store and promised support for application developers. That will take some of the risk out of SDN for enterprises, he said. Soon, he added, organizations will put a requirement into their RFP’s that suppliers products have to link to the customers’ SDN, he said.

However, he acknowledges that it’s still early days for SDN, in part because CIOs are unwilling to trust overhauling their networks to what is seen as an unadopted technology. SDN, he says, may not take off because of that.

What could make the difference, he added, will be the appearance of SDN solutions that solve two of the biggest pain-points IT managers face: Mobility (through BYOD policies) and security.

The other partner who spoke with reporters here was David Petts, ShoreTel’s senior vice-president for worldwide sales. ShoreTel runs a software-as-a-service version of its VoIP offering, so as a service provider is attracted to the possibilities of SDN.

HP is trying to differentiate itself from other SDN vendors by tailoring its solutions to enterprises. So, for example, it has worked with Microsoft to create an SDN app for the VAN controller so a network can dynamically adapt quality of service and bandwidth to Microsoft Lync sessions. Last month HP said it will federate its SDN solution with VMware’s network virtualization solution.

The creation of the HP SDN App Store should help network managers get over the concept of installing software over a network, HP officials told reporters here. The store will make validated apps easy to buy, easy to download with a single click, and easy for developers to stock. And an ecosystem will help the technology grow.

Mike Banic, HP’s vice-president of global marketing for networking products, quoted an IDC research report predicting the market for SDN apps could reach US$670 million in three years. That’s the opportunity for the HP store, he said.

Bethany Mayer, senior vice-president and general manager of HP Networking, said it has already developed and network virtualization app that provides multitenancy for cloud environments. It allows service providers to tailor networks differently for groups; and a security app that has taken intrusion protection capabilities that can download malware signatures for blocking access to forbidden Web sites to the VAN controller, and then to switches. “It really scales security across the network,” she said.

The result is puts network access control into switch fabric, she said.

She also said its own applications for the app store are being developed on standards-based RESTful APIs and aren’t proprietary – they should be compatible with any vendor’s controller using those APIs.

HP [NYSE: HPQ] is also working with standards bodies to develop other open APIs, she added.

Other companies that have registered for the HP software development kit include Microsoft, Intel, SAP, Citrix Systems, F5, Infoblox, Radware, VMware and Riverbed.

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