My Thoughts On IBM, NEC, and OpenFlow

IBM and NEC announced this week that the two companies will work together to offer networking solutions based upon SDN and OpenFlow. IBM provides the switches which are integrated with the NEC Programmable Flow Controller.

To me, this is bigger than just a press release and some joint marketing programs. Here's why:

  1. IBM and NEC are moving OpenFlow beyond academic labs and cloud computing theory, taking their joint solution to enterprise data centers. Yes, enterprises need to be educated on SDN and its benefits, but the use case for OpenFlow is certainly there since legacy networks can't keep up with growing data scale or virtual server mobility.
  2. While the headline may be OpenFlow, it's really all about software. Mainframes became virtual computing platforms in the 1970s and Intel servers did the same with server virtualization technology from Citrix, Microsoft, Red Hat, and VMware. The next step is cloud computing which is intended to virtualize the whole IT infrastructure enchilada but static proprietary networks just don't play well in this arena.
  3. You have to give NEC credit for recognizing the software-centric opportunity around OpenFlow and bringing a quality controller to market. NEC could become the standard glue of a heterogeneous OpenFlow network over time.
  4. When HP purchased 3Com, a lot of people had IBM reacting with an acquisition of Brocade or Juniper. With SDN/OpenFlow, IBM can create a data center fabric out of access switches. Between OpenFlow and existing partnerships, I can't see IBM making a big networking acquisition anytime soon.
  5. For those of us who've been around the industry for a while, it is certainly ironic to see IBM taking a leadership position in networking. I know I'm showing my age, but it doesn't seem like that long ago that IBM was pushing Token Ring and SNA.
  6. Personally, I don't see SDN and OpenFlow as a threat to Cisco. In fact, Cisco could build OpenFlow software with IOS/Nexus intelligence and integration as sort of a dual path strategy. If I've learned anything about the network industry it is this: Never (and I mean never) count Cisco out when it comes to networking.

You can read Jon's other blog entries at Insecure About Security.

Topics: IT Infrastructure Networking