Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Dell Backs Standards-Setting Panel for Software-Defined Networking

Everyone is going nuts these days about software-defined networking. I’ve tried to explain it a few times before in the context of two notable startups, Nicira, now part of VMware, and Big Switch.

Basically, it comes down to subbing out all the proprietary hardware that’s used to build up a network and instead setting all the parameters for how you run a network in software that’s running on commodity hardware.

Well, as the networking industry starts to get its head around all this, the time has come to set some standards. Standards-setting is a kind of nuanced, political process that can take years and requires the patience of a diplomat.

Today we heard an interesting shout in all this from Dell. The computing giant, which also has a small networking business, said it has aligned itself with the Object Management Group, a.k.a. OMG, and has proposed a working committee that would set standards around software-defined networking. The committee’s first meeting will be in April.

So, what does OMG do? It’s a nonprofit organization whose task forces set out to get everyone working on the same page, so that different systems from multiple vendors can work together. Dell is a member, as is Hewlett-Packard, which has its own sizable networking business. IBM is a member, too, though there’s no word on whether or not it will join this task force.

One company that probably won’t: Cisco Systems. And there’s a reason for that. Cisco has its own standards-setting effort under way. It’s code-named Daylight, and is supposedly going to be announced at the Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara in April. Some critics say Cisco is trying to make its proprietary technology central to it.

I may be wrong, but it seems that a cold war is breaking out over software-defined networking. It may not matter. Dell’s networking business is relatively small, and this could turn out to be something of an insurgent effort. Then again, there are a lot of people who think the whole idea behind software-defined networking is intended specifically to go against the idea that networking gear should be proprietary, which is exactly what Cisco has specialized in for years.

Anyway, the politics of setting standards are always confusing and deeply technical. But the fact that this process is getting under way at all is an interesting development around the whole SDN trend, and bears watching.

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