Dell, Cisco Differ Over SDN Definitions

Dell is prepared to help set standards for the emerging category of software-defined networks, even as Cisco pooh-poohed the SDN concept as too limiting.

Dell has proposed the addition of a Software-Defined Networking (SDN) standardization working committee within the Object Management Group, a standards body whose model-driven architecture comes up with specifications based on RFPs. OMG’s first SDN meeting will be held in April, the group said.

Software defined networks have emerged as a way of taking programmability to the switch, theoretically aligning pools of networking in conjunction with storage and computing. Some have argued that the large switch vendors—including Cisco—intend to mold SDN more in their image.

Dell said that its OMG participation was merely part of its existing standards work. “These communities give customers value because contributions from member companies are advanced based on merit and openness of the contribution,” Tom Burns, general manager of Dell Networking, wrote in a statement.

From a standards perspective, OMG hasn’t played a role as significant as say, the W3C, with its support for Web standards. The Eclipse Foundation is listed as one of the most popular avenues for implementations based on the platform-independent, model-driven architecture driven by the OMG. With regard to SDN, it will apparently be up to Dell, too.

In what might be a more practical effort, OMG also partnered with the Data Transparency Coalition late last month to encourage government to use consistent electronic identifiers and data languages for federal spending, performance, regulatory, legislative, and judicial information. The SMART Regulation will allow regulators to write in a standardized vocabulary and format; document any confusion or conflicts that may arise during concurrent implementation of rules; and will apply a measurement system to determine costs, benefits and potential risks before implementation, the groups said.

Meanwhile, Padmasree Warrior, Cisco’s chief technical officer, told a technical conference this week that the current concept of SDN was already outdated. SDN should really encompass programmable networks, she said, not just the abstraction of the control and data plane. “We see the network as a platform where applications can be programmed, where information can be processed and where data and business processes can be much more efficient,” Warrior said, as quoted by TechWorld.

“Everything cannot go back to the data centre, it needs to have a distributed architecture for both compute and network,” Warrior added. “It needs to be agile in the sense that it needs to have the functionality to say what traffic do I send back to the data centre and how much do I enable to happen at the branch or access point?”

One might say that Dell seems to prefer open standards if only because it lacks the history of Cisco and some of the other major networking vendors. Are open standards like OpenFlow necessary for the SDNs of tomorrow, or can one vendor do a better job? It’s all a matter of perspective.


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