Recently, we’ve seen the web and networking industry trend away from the proprietary networking solutions that we’ve grown accustomed to in the last two decades. Instead of relying on the Ciscos of the world to control both the software and hardware of entire networks, more companies are taking control of their network by creating custom software to control their system and make it more efficient. And Google is certainly embracing software defined networking (SDN), and indeed the company is leading the charge to programmable networks.
Cade Metz discusses how a Stanford colleague of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Guido Appenzeller, helped the pair with their business plan for creating Google. He went on to oversee the creation of OpenFlow. This open source project, hosted by Stanford, went on to be the backbone for Google’s move to SDN. It’s no longer just pure research; it is now useful in the real world.
The key quote in the article is from Appenzeller himself: “It’s like the transition from those Nokia cell phones of ten years ago – or, before that, from the mainframe.” Google has taken this idea of making smart networks that run their very own custom code, and run with it.
This is important for the movement due to Google’s size. If a company as giant, complex, and almost completely web-based as Google can implement SDN, smaller companies can do it as well. Obviously, the biggest web companies have the most to gain, but their scale makes transitions like this daunting. Google’s confidence in SDN is a giant signal that many other companies and institutions will be moving away from the old way of networking. Sure, only the HPs and Googles of the world are using it now, but soon your local library and school systems will be able to benefit from these advances.
Google’s biggest contribution isn’t their own use and development of the technology – it’s moving expectations. As more people move towards SDN, the market will be forced to respond. Customisable software will become the standard, and the death grip that Cisco has on the industry will loosen.
Not every company has the resources to write their own software like Google does, so the market for customisable and scriptable networking software will be able to blossom. Thanks to the momentum that Google has given the movement, efficiency and customisability will become the standard among networking. It’s already happening with the rise of companies like Big Switch Networks. It’s clear that this is where networking is headed for the entire industry. “Dumb networks” are on their way out.
As an end user, this won’t visibly change much. However, the entire infrastructure of your favourite web services are being overhauled. Not only is the data being routed more efficiently and processed quicker, but this also means that the cost and physical footprint of networks will go down. Scaling will be easier and cheaper than before. Thanks to SDN allowing seamless integration between virtual and physical networks, we need less hardware to do the same job as before. The whole networking industry is getting a face lift, and Google is partly to thank for leading the way.
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