For boosters of software-defined networking, the potential benefits of the new approach are nothing less than revolutionary.
Yet network managers are still only dipping their toes into the technology. In part that’s because it involves either an overlay of an existing network or the construction of a new one. It doesn’t help that some elements of vendors’ architectures are only just appearing on the market.
To give IT pros a little push network automation software maker Infoblox Inc. has released a free, lightweight open source SDN switch called Lincx to help them build pilot networks.
Downloadable from FlowForwarding.org, an open source community promoting tools based on OpenFlow, Lincx’s code is about four times smaller than Open vSwitch, yet has 80 per cent of the performance. It can run on any commodity Linux or Xen server.
Stu Bailey, founder and CTO of Infoblox, said in an interview that combined with other open software and tools available from the site, network staff can build a software defined network and demonstrate the benefits to managers. He also hopes Lincx will also spur development of open-source SDN applications. Infoblox doesn’t plan to commercialize the switch.
The more freely available software that Infoblox customers can use will help them understand SDN and “how they’re going to ultimately consume this new model that has such a dramatic effect on capex spending, on operational spending and net new functionality,” he said.
Industry analyst Zeus Kerravala of ZK research thinks a free switch solves the wrong problem with those hesitating over SDN. “Most customers I’ve talked to don’t really feel comfortable with white box switches,” he said in an email. “The big problem in the data center isn’t the cost of hardware, it’s more the operational costs. Network hardware accounts for less than five per cent of data center TCO where operational costs account for about 40 per cent. Using low cost, commodity switches with an open source controller may reduce hardware costs a little bit but could drive up the operational costs for most companies.”
Even Bailey admits one problem is it’s still early days for SDN, which is one reason why enterprises haven’t jumped on the SDN bandwagon quickly. Instead, cloud service and content providers like Facebook with huge data centres are taking the lead.
Bailey also acknowledges that at this point even using open tools enterprises will need some hand-holding from vendors.
“It’s hard to understand where the centre of value will be (for SDN) from a products perspective wihouth early adopters feeling their way through that. There’s some evidence that some of the value will be above the control plane– net new applications that take advantage of the operational advantages of SDN as well as the net new functionality.”
“What we don’t know yet is where customers are going to spend money? Will it be in the highest value applications, which will be much closer to the business? We hope by giving away this software stack free they can help us, the community and the market at large explore that space.”
The bot threat
Some of the most serious threats networks face today are "bots," remotely controlled robotic programs that strike in many different ways and deliver destructive payloads, self propagating to infect more and more systems and eventually forming a "botnet."