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How to choose the right SDN controller platform

How do I know which SDN controller platform will work for me?

This is a common question for any new product or technology. Before embarking on a controller platform journey, make sure you have identified what problem you're trying to solve and what the end goal is. Not all controllers are created equally, so rather than looking at individual controller platforms, it's more important to look at end-to-end solutions.

It's not uncommon to see controllers included in data center network solutions and in "off-the-shelf" SDN applications, such as Cisco's Monitor Manager (a yet-to-be-released monitor manager solution that enables SDN in the production network) or Big Switch's Big Tap applications, which can turn an off-the-shelf Ethernet switch into a matrix switch (think Gigamon devices, like the Gigamon GigaVUE).

Most enterprises are still looking for solutions, not individual components. This means, if the requirement is around matrix switching and expanding visibility into the network, you would look at the functionality, capabilities, usability, roadmap, etc. of each application and determine whether the controller can support that application. The controller becomes an implementation detail especially for complete solutions where the application and controller are coming from the same vendor. In that scenario, you will indirectly learn the details of controllers and if they are being used based on functionality and usability.

With that said, as brave souls go down the path of do-it-yourself (DIY) networking, as Goldman Sachs and Google have done, a different vendor may be used for the controller than is used for the actual application riding on top. Before this can happen, though, interoperability- and standards-based APIs will be needed, unless, of course, end users choose to write and support their own applications.

For those users who want to play around with general controller technology, or just get a look at what an industry standard and open source controller platform is like, I'd recommend checking out the OpenDaylight Project (ODP). Many vendors are contributing code to ODP that mirrors portions of their own proprietary controller solution and hoping that will drive standards across the software-defined networking and controller ecosystem.

This was first published in August 2013

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