2015 will See Pragmatic Steps towards Deploying SDN and NFV: Brocade, CTO, APAC

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

By Shrikanth G


Brocade is making some significant strides in the industry with wins across its SDN, NFV, and Ethernet switches portfolio. In an exclusive interview with Voice&Data, Matt Kolon, CTO, APAC, Brocade, talks about how programmable networks are impacting enterprise networking and how Brocade has taken big leaps in developing leadership in the space.

Voice&Data: Basically in the last two years from an APAC context, there have been heightened conversations especially around software-defined networking and software-defined datacenters. Some call it SDX and some call it SDI. How does one navigate this maze?

Matt Kolon: It’s very hard for companies to know what to make of this. I am now on the third day of the series of seminars that we have been doing in India—I was in Bengaluru, then in Delhi, and lastly in Mumbai. And almost every interaction that I have with customers and partners around everything that Brocade does 80% of the time gets directed back to this question: “What am I supposed to do with SDN, how I am supposed to use it, what is


Brocade doing, and how can that be of value to me, because I as a customer am incredibly confused about what all different vendors are saying to me.” And I love that because when that happens I get a chance to say, “Wait, stop.

Let’s just roll this back a little bit and speak about it in a simplistic form, not because you Mr. Customer can’t consume more than that (you’re a smart person), but because precisely of all the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that exists in the industry. I am going to honestly admit and directly address the holes that we see in SDN as a technology right now.” And that’s the exciting part for me.

Voice&Data: There is a demand for elastic networks which can scale-in and scale-out as per the demand and peak computing power, so do you think SDN is a panacea that can bring in more elasticity to networks?


Matt Kolon: I really liked what you were saying until you said panacea because when you say panacea then I have to say that it can do everything, but then of course I won’t say that. My approach to that question would be to distinguish between SDN and NFV. And it is important to talk about this topic.

Speaking more specially about the NFV side of what we call the overall software networking, that’s where I think one of the biggest impacts is happening right now. Only because so many services are provided by networks traditionally and even today are provided via hardware platforms or specialized hardware platforms, whether you think of those as routers or other service platforms or just what are generally called appliances.

Voice&Data: You mentioned about the separation between SDN and NFV, and there’s also been ambiguity and some say NFV is a road to SDN. What’s you view on this?


Matt Kolon: So, here is the way that I say it to make it simpler for people. My perspective and Brocade’s perspective—what NFV does is simply virtualizes the things that I was talking about before; it makes them deployable on common off-the-shelf hardware.

So that means as I was saying, if you have a load balancer, you typically even today buy an appliance or hardware appliance to deploy that capability. NFV is the rethinking of that and ultimately what that box does is that it provides software value on a piece of hardware and if you rewrite that software so that it can run on common off-the-shelf stuff, Intel and Moore’s Law, and developments that the world of micro-processors have done in that period of time, means that there’s really not much of a reason to use ASICs or other specialized hardware to provide those services.

And that being the case, NFV becomes the ability to provide all of those used-to-be-specialized-platforms needed their hardware to do. Another example of that of course is just routing—you can do routing and forwarding now at amazing speeds. So the capabilities of NFV functions on common hardware are just about the same as what you could do with the specialized pieces of hardware these days.


Moving to SDN—it is more than anything else a management capability, you know in the sense that FCAPS is management in some cases but more importantly than that it’s a real-time way of changing the relationship between those different services, and also broadening the applicability of that management protocol to systems that are legacy physical systems, futuristic virtual systems, and kind of everything in between. And that means you can use SDN with OpenDaylight, using open source protocols and kind of a community-based approach.

Voice&Data: Are there any inhibitors in terms of standardizations and things like OpenFlow, and what is Brocade’s contribution to Open Networking Foundation? Can you give us a sense of that?

Matt Kolon: So to answer your question I will take a half a step back and I’ll just say that everything that I say in response to a question like that has to been seen through the prism of Brocade’s commitment to open systems and open source projects. Open systems mean nothing proprietary and open source projects mean that the work is done largely under the auspices of larger organizations that are not just about Brocade, they’re about anybody who wants to be involved, meaning other vendors, individuals, customers, etc.


With that being said, and specifically to answer your question, OpenFlow, for example, is currently the control protocol for let’s say SDN; that kind of the whole industry agrees is the market leader right now. It is used to power and control the nodes in the vast majority or even proposed SDN installations, never mind the ones that are currently installed and the ones we are currently building. So the ONF’s actions are very important and we are very heavily involved in making sure that OpenFlow moves into 1.4 (which is happening pretty soon). We are the primary contributors to the discussion about what’s possible and what’s not possible.

Voice&Data: Are IT organizations in APAC progressing enough to embrace SDN and at what stage of maturity are the CIOs at this point in time?

Matt Kolon: APAC is a very diverse place, and even if you narrow it down to India, it is also very diverse. So you find that at this moment, just as we did with other transformative technologies that came in the IP era (say MPLS or various types of tunnelling and security protocols) or even IPv6, an area as diverse as India sees a lot of different types of engagements. I certainly have customers who say “I’m not touching that,” and that is true inside some of our most conservative customer verticals. Some customers say, “I’m going to wait a while to see where that winds up.” That does not mean that they are not interested but it means they are probably not in the trial or “Hey, I want to deploy this year” bucket.


Voice&Data: What is your strategy in India?

Matt Kolon: Now, as far as Brocade’s strategy in India is concerned, I can’t sort of announce anything in particular, but we have made and continue to make investments here. But also something that I find unique to India is that because of India’s competence and leadership of the global system integrators, you can bet that those types of big names have been talking to us about finding ways to use software networking to improve a number of things.

But what’s even cooler than that is that SDN in particular allows easier interplay between management systems and software functions like applications and allows them to control the network without needing to get down to the physical layers.

Voice&Data: Finally, if you look at 2015, what is the outlook for SDN?

Matt Kolon: I think leading up to this year, there was a lot of preliminary work being done, in terms of making people comfortable. However, there are many customers and many industries that still need to get to some degree of general comfort before they can move along. So, a lot of work is still left to be done.

This year we are seeing kind of thinning of some of that fog from the past and we are seeing actual pragmatic steps, many more POCs (proof of concepts), trials, and customers actually buying and deploying SDN and NFV capabilities in small amounts, but in amounts that we know are the beginning of an avalanche that will be happening over the next couple of years.

This is the kind of continued solidification of what we see as an unstoppable trend. It’s similar to the things that we have seen in the past like MPLS—the beginning of MPLS as you know in very late 90s and early 2000s was very much the same kind of the trend where everybody could see the potential of the technology, but not everybody was ready to move at once. So the things that are happening this year are happening in the most technology-savvy and kind of technology-forward forums like the service providers and cloud service providers who are comfortable with software. For the more tentative or conservative organizations, they are still getting comfortable, and this will be a multi-year migration for sure.

nfv sdn brocade