Does software-defined networking require special SDN switches?

Do you need special SDN switches for software-defined networking?

Special SDN switches are not required to implement software-defined networks. SDN architectures will take many different approaches as they mature and change, and each technology vendor will have a unique take on how to implement SDN. For example, VMware, with its acquisition of Nicira, will implement SDN protocols in its vSwitch software, which does not require specialized hardware or a controller.  Many suppliers are offering specific SDN controllers, such as OpenFlow controllers offered by Big Switch, NEC, HP and IBM, and controllers that are not OpenFlow-specific and use other protocols (offered by Cisco and Juniper).

Many SDN implementations will be enhanced by linking SDN software to the underlying network hardware. For most data center network applications, the underlying physical network working in conjunction with SDN protocols will be critical to delivering a highly scalable, high-performance, low-latency network.

Vendors such as Pica8, Plexxi and others have designed specific (hardware) switches that are designed to deliver enhanced SDN performance. Other suppliers such as Cisco, HP, Dell, Avaya, Juniper and Brocade offer high-performance network fabrics in conjunction with SDN to speed data center operations.

This was first published in March 2013

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