October 10, 2011

Does OpenFlow Make Sense in Enterprise Networks?

dclan-logos.JPGThere has been a lot of interest recently in OpenFlow - a communications protocol that enables the separation of the control of packets from the forwarding of packets.  By separation is meant that the forwarding of the packets occurs on an OpenFlow switch and the control of those packets occurs on a separate controller. 

The OpenFlow specification itself is being developed by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF)

One of the things that is interesting about the ONF is that its founding and board member are Deutsche Telekom, Verizon, facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.  At first it may seem strange that companies such as Google, facebook and Yahoo are so involved with the development of new communications protocols.  However, given that separating the control and the forwarding of packets onto separate devices is somewhat of a radical idea, one could argue that the initial advocates would have to be non-traditional players.

The definitive paper on OpenFlow is entitled "OpenFlow:  Enabling Innovation in Campus Networks." The paper was written in 2008 by researchers at some of the US's most prestigious universities; i.e., Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton and MIT.

The first sentence of that paper states "This whitepaper proposes OpenFlow:  a way for researchers to run experimental protocols in the networks they use everyday."  That sentence sets up the theme for this month's discussion: Does OpenFlow actually enable the innovation and cost savings that the articles in the press have been talking about or is OpenFlow just a science experiment by some really bright people?

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