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Eric Osborne speaking at TFI2014

Eric OsborneI hope you had a wonderful weekend! We’re getting back in the grind this Monday by highlighting another of our illustrious TFI2014 speakers: Eric Osborne.

Eric has been involved in the Internet industry for almost twenty years. His career took him from a small startup ISP later acquired by Verio (now NTT-America) to Cisco, where he spent the bulk of his career doing GSR, CRS, IP and MPLS work, and just recently to Level3 where he is a principal architect. His current responsibilities include figuring out what use, if any, SDN and NFV have to his current employer. He is a co-author, along with Ajay Simha, of “Traffic Engineering with MPLS” (Cisco Press, 2003) and an active IETF participant. He lives outside of Boston, MA with a kid, a wife and a dog, at least two of which are usually happy with him at any time.

We recently threw some questions at Eric, and he threw us some answers:

What is SDN?

SDN is either the narrowly defined, Stanford-birthed programmable 10-tuple or the more nebulous, “definition of networks using software” that the industry seems to have turned it into.  I look at it as the narrow one.  If you put the label ‘SDN’ on *everything*, as people seem to be doing, you might as well put the label on nothing at all. The narrow definition of SDN basically makes it looks like policy routing, which we’ve had in routers for twenty years.  So what’s different this time?  SDN is not just policy routing, it’s centrally managed, ubiquitous, performant policy routing.  This changes the conversation from “what can I do with these vendor knobs in this code rev” to “what could I do if I had really good policy routing everywhere in my network”, or maybe “what could I do if  the dominant forwarding paradigm wasn’t destination-based”?

Why are you excited about SDN?

I draw parallels between SDN and MPLS.

I just told you that SDN is just high quality policy routing.  But MPLS is nothing more than frame relay with an IP control plane.  Just because it’s easy to describe doesn’t mean it’s a  good idea to dismiss.

I was around for a lot of the early days of MPLS, and I saw people go through the same mania that they’re doing now with SDN.  I had people say “You need to help me get MPLS”.  I’d say “OK, why do you want MPLS?”  And more often than not, the answer was “Because I don’t have it!”  And if the best business case you have is a tautology, you might want to go work on that a bit.

But after the dust settled, MPLS changed the world.  If we can get past the hype, I think SDN might do the same.

How does the network of the future differ from today’s?

Yesterday’s epiphany is often today’s baseline.  Again, look at MPLS.  There are precious few people that don’t do at least some MPLS, and half of those people are opposed to it on “nobody my permission to do it first so I hate it” grounds.

SDN will be the same.  Networks will get bigger and faster; that’s how the world works.  Just being big or fast isn’t enough.  Networks also now need to be flexible,  more so than they’ve ever been.  This is where the broader SDN umbrella comes in.  SDN is a building block for a more responsive network.  It’s not the only thing (NFV is big here, along with orchestration and service chaining).  But it’s a big thing.  And in a year, in three, in five, in ten, it’ll be the New Normal.  The iPhone is seven years old, and today a phone that only makes phone calls is a museum piece.  In seven years, if your network doesn’t take advantage of SDN and the other stuff coming with it, will you be a network  operator?  Or a museum curator?

You still have time to register for The Future of the Internet 2014: Defining Software Defined Networks being held this Friday in the Denver Tech Center – come continue this discussion with us!

August 18th, 2014 by | Posted in Events, SDN | Tags: , , , |

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