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A Quiet Disruption Happened in Networking

I focus on marketing disruptive technologies. So, I am a student of disruption. Many look for a defining event, such as the cry of Father Miguel Hidalgo (the famous “Grito de Dolores”) that began the Mexican Revolution[i], to be a hallmark of disruption. Others look for a tidal change, such as when Internet use at home hit over 50% in the year 2000 (per US Census Bureau report)[ii]. Those are all good benchmarks.


But, another key benchmark is one that changes how people think or that signals a new direction for an industry. That kind of disruption is a lot more difficult to spot. Server virtualization is a great example since it was the beginning of the IT industry’s trend to separate hardware from software. In fact, the success of server virtualization helped inspire succeeding “Software Defined x” technologies and initiatives, my favorite being “Software Defined Radio”[iii] (doubters, please check the footnote, I am not making this up).

A networking disruption happened this week – and it did not attract a lot of noise or attention. But, it is noteworthy and should be marked. Today, Network Operating Systems still require custom work to run even on commodity servers. However, this week Dell announced that they were “separating silicon from switch” via creation of standards that will enable Network Operating Systems to operate across commodity boxes. Cumulus Networks also announced that they were contributing a set of standards, some time in the making, to the Open Compute Project.

Why is this a noteworthy disruption? This disruption:

  • Will “… make running the network operating system on any switch as easy as it is for applications to run on any x86-based server.” [iv]
  • Shows that “…networking is catching up with the server business. …This is a pivotal moment for the industry as open networking enters the mainstream.” [v]
  • Will further the development of white boxes that are optimized for network tasks versus server tasks.[vi]
  • Will accelerate Software Defined Networking (SDN) by expediting the separation of software from the silicon – and therefore breaking the 18-36 month silicon chip and integration into hardware development cycle into much shorter and more manageable software release cycles.

So, let us all mark today with a “Grito de Separación” or “Shout of Separation” – networking is already disrupted! It’s only a matter of time now before Software Defined Networking (SDN) is just called “Networking” and old-school approaches are called “Hardware Defined Networking (HDN)”!







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