Answer

Where do network fabric and SDN technologies intersect?

Can you use network fabric with SDN technologies?

The short answer is yes -- networks can use both a network fabric and software-defined network (SDN) protocols. The question becomes how tightly integrated SDN technologies and network fabrics will be in the future. In one camp (which includes VMware and OpenFlow), the SDN architecture operates independently of the network switching fabric. SDN software and network fabric hardware are purchased from separate vendors, and SDN software abstracts and controls the physical Ethernet fabric. 

At the other end of the spectrum, SDN technologies are integrated with the physical network fabric. Suppliers offering this model include Cisco, Juniper with QFabric and SDN startups like Plexxi with its optical interconnect. Integrated SDN protocols make the network fabric more application-aware and facilitate Quality of Service for specific applications. 

In fact, many vendors are architecting their next-generation network products for the data center around both high-performance network fabrics and their SDN architectures. For example,

For most data center network applications the underlying physical network, working in conjunction with SDN protocols, will be critical to deliver a highly scalable, high-performance, low-latency network.

This was first published in March 2013

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