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SDN: It's living the dream – and just using what you've got

Freedom to pick the hardware you want, when you want

Let's dance

But this Cumulus switch changes things. The management of Cumulus is light years ahead of the native Supermicro switching OS, and with Cumulus I could make entire data centres of these things dance with minimal effort.

What's more, Supermicro doesn't have to be my switch manufacturer of choice. Dell, Edge-Core, HP, Penguin, Agema and QCT all have a number of Cumulus switches. That's fantastic for me: I find exactly the right switch for my needs and don't have to care about the vendor beyond basic support concerns.

If a switch dies, replace it. The configuration is handled centrally so even if you replace the switch with something "close" from a different manufacturer, you'll be good. No more slaving over config files to work out kinks in some minor variant of a switch OS, or late nights because some bit wasn't licensed.

All of this could be doable without adding in the magic special sauce of SDN and NFV, but SDN and NFV make everything so much better. Instead of simply having a workable multi-node management interface on "good enough" switches, we get the ability to combine automation of our switches with automation of NFV. The switches work in concert with everything from VMware's NSX to Openstack's Neutron without any grief.

A change in virtualisation software that brings up a new service can trigger changes in the virtual switches as well as the hardware switches, can stand up NFV assets and generally take what was a couple of hours' worth of work for a network admin and make it happen in a second or two, automatically.

And it doesn't need a legacy switching vendor's brand name, label, support, training, or certification.

Legacy switching vendors could have headed SDN off by simply adapting their existing offerings to be more user friendly, been more flexible about lock-in and maybe compromised a little on pricing. They didn't.

The change in networking is happening from the bottom up and the top down at the same time. Smaller organisations are finding SDN gear gives them access to tools and capabilities they would otherwise not have been able to afford – both because the networking gear was too costly and so were the bodies to run it. Service providers are adopting SDN because doing anything at that scale without it is just plain bonkers.

It remains to be seen how long the legacy switching vendors can hold out by clinging to the upper mid-market and the enterprise.

Eventually, those organisations will figure SDN and NFV out. When they do, the old guard better have offerings a fair sight better – and cheaper – than what's on the table today. ®

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