I was at Open Network Summit exhibit last week. I ran into quite some Cisco or Juniper engineers who literally took vacation and paid the conference out of their own pockets just to observe the SDN industry first hand and evaluate their career options.
So what's the ground truth I'm telling the candidates and what should SDN job candidates out there want to know whichever company they have interests?
1) SDN: Hype or Real?
It is a complete hype for those who think SDN is curing cancer; and it is completely real for those who have come to realization the status quo networking technology is a mainframe technology. For others, it is somewhere in between.
Honestly don't even waste your time in agonizing on "whether" SDN will make it, it is going to happen no matter what. One may argue which particular established or start-up company is going to lead it.
2) VMware's acquisition of Nicira: good or bad?
It is both a blessing and curse frankly. It is a blessing because customers started questioning HDN way more than before. It is a curse because the huge price tag artificially fast forwarded the customer expectation on SDN industry maturity by 2-3 years. VMware was able to develop and mature its technology a decade ago without much distraction from the crazy press and blogsphere world, whereas everyone is watching closely the "VMware for the Networking" companies.
For now, the "fast forwarding" has not helped the industry in general. It created misleading perception on the stage the industry is in, how mature the economic model is, how soon the liquidation event shall happen, and when customers are ready to adopt it in mass.
3) Open Daylight Consortium: good or bad?
The "Open" part is good, assuming the consortium lives up to its meritocracy promise, as it gives Big Switch Networks and everyone an opportunity. The "Consortium" is naturally suspicious as historically there have been more failure than not in 90% of the "Consortium". Finally the "light" naming must be perfect, especially after Big Switch has set the de facto standard by launching two SDN "lights" earlier ("Floodlight" and "Switch Light"). :-)
Overall it is not yet the time to make any judgment. My colleague Jason Matlof said recently, "We are cautiously optimistic, with an emphasis on cautious.”
4) Who are the players in this space?
Mostly importantly, we are at the beginning of the SDN journey, the "lead" by anyone today is not meaningful yet. The team that has the best talent, approach, and execution focus will earn the winning in the future. That said, a few thoughts on some of the obvious players:
- Cisco is the indisputable leader in networking technology but now has to react to SDN. Dave Ward shared Cisco's perspectives on OpenFlow and SDN in a fairly technical and thoughtful way lately. Then there is also Insieme. Given the proven track record of MPLS team, Insieme will get both internal mind share and external market share. Insieme is not a start-up and it is a Cisco BU with special purpose and special treatment. The employees sit in the same Cisco cubicles, drink the same tap water, have access to the same code, employee directory, and bug system, have the same customer account. They will deliver a differentiated HDN solution with a nice SDN angle.
- VMware pioneered in overlay networking in the past decade (Akimbi's Network Fencing, Nicira's NVP, and VMware's DVS, VXLAN, vCNI) and they fundamentally want to absorb as much networking functions to the server land as possible. It is a very logical strategy given VMware is fundamentally a server infrastructure company and the key thing to watch out is how much they leverage from the legacy networking partners. Too much and too little won't accomplish their mission.
- The aspiration Big Switch has is to bridge the server and networking domains and keep CCIEs relevant but in a different way. Few SDN pure players have the similar ambition to own an end to end stack from applications, to SDN Controller, all the way to virtual and physical switching stack.