Interop 2012: Q&A, Saar Gillai, CTO, HP Networking

IT Pro spoke to Saar Gillai, vice president and CTO of HP Networking about OpenFlow and how a new era of software-defined networks could disrupt the entire networking industry.

Can you detail why HP has launched new networking products that support OpenFlow?

[The idea of ] software-defined networks (SDNs) is fundamentally about moving the control plane of the network from the firmware of the boxes to a centralised compute environment, such as a server, or usually more than one server, but it would be something separate from the firmware.

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We are very happy with the disruption. We think it is in our favour.

Could you have the control plane running from the cloud?

Perhaps, but it needs to be something that is scalable and reliable. The reason you may not do that on the cloud is that there are aspects of it that need to be real-time. Moving it to the cloud depends on whether you can get the real-time control from there. But the main question is : What would be the benefit of moving the control plane to the cloud?

That separation gives you, in theory, the programmable and agile capability of manipulating the forwarding and the policy behaviour of your switches in a unified fashion. Instead of going through switch by switch fussing with things, you now have, theoretically, a central repository where you can now affect things at the entire network level. That is the promise of SDNs.

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There are different levels of what people want to do. Some people, the Googles, the Amazons, the Yahoos, want switches that understand OpenFlow and they want to build everything themselves. Some players want switches aswell as controllers provided by the vendor that will give them some APIs that they can then programme a SDN on top of the hardware and build different applications. The work we've done with Indiana University would be a good example of where that has happened.

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