OpenFlow: Distributed Network Nirvana or Academic Science Project

M. Spanbauer
M. Spanbauer

Summary Bullets:

  • OpenFlow will move from the academic to the commercial in the next 24 months
  • Vendors’ perception of OpenFlow will determine whether they resist or embrace the technology

From its beginnings at Stanford as a research project to becoming a technology movement that has start-ups building businesses around it, OpenFlow has emerged as a topic of discussion in many networking circles today.  OpenFlow is essentially the proposal to add a hook into an existing network device that enables control and forwarding actions to be centrally managed off-device and then implemented identically across all devices in the network.  Whether this control includes table replication, routing actions, security policies, or even access control list (ACL) population, all are possible with the OpenFlow architecture.  Consider that a device could merely execute packet handling directions versus actually having to determine which decision to make.  This, in turn, could radically reduce the processing requirements on the device itself, in addition to enabling a consistent policy application across a very large number of devices (theoretically, tens to hundreds of thousands), which would vastly simplify management.  OpenFlow also offers the operator the ability to integrate intelligence into the network without relying on the network device’s operating system or even application awareness that can then execute and apply QoS and security policies.  While some vendors offer devices that possess this ability today on a select portion of their portfolio, there are exceptionally few environments that are 100% standardized on a single vendor’s latest generation of products.
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