Brocade application delivery controller will serve as SDN controller

In this Q&A, Brocade VP Ken Cheng reveals that his company will enable its application delivery controller as a SDN controller for some use cases.

Is your application delivery controller destined to operate as a software defined networking controller in your infrastructure?

During Brocade Communications Systems Inc.'s most recent quarterly earnings call, Ken Cheng, vice president of its routing, application delivery and software networking group, said the application delivery controller (ADC) market is experiencing a major disruption. He didn't elaborate on the point, so I decided to follow up with him.

During our conversation, Cheng explained that the cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) models are changing how ADC vendors compete. He also told me something else very interesting: Brocade is planning to convert its ADX controller into a software defined networking (SDN) controller for a narrow set of use cases. Here's more of what Cheng had to say.

There are a lot of market disruptions in the networking industry today. Which one were you referring to during the recent earnings call?

Ken Cheng: We've seen some major shifts in this market, primarily because of the fact that most customers are moving their infrastructure to hosting environments and cloud environments. Many customers, specifically enterprisers, are moving their applications to the cloud and also dramatically embracing virtualization. And increasingly, applications are running in virtualized environments as opposed to physical environments.

So, if you look at the underlying market shifts, you will see the market is in midst of a disruption where the F5s [F5 Networks Inc.] of the world -- [which have leveraged] tight relationships with all the enterprise application providers like Oracle and SAP -- now have to adjust their strategy. The shifting of the market is playing to our strength and advantage.

One of the first things that we have done is align [our ADC] business with service providers. It's a sector that usually leads technology adoption, and it's a customer segment which is very aggressively embracing [SDN] and OpenFlow, and looking at ways to migrate their architecture into the cloud. I see this as a tremendous opportunity for Brocade because of the fact that our server load balancer and ADC capabilities have traditionally had strength of performance and scalability, which is exactly what these service providers are looking for.

You mentioned that F5 leverages its relationships with the Oracles and SAPs of the world. Are you saying that when more enterprises move their applications to the cloud, those relationships with enterprise application vendors become less relevant?

Cheng: No, [enterprises] will still have those applications. But there are going to be a lot more applications that are available in the cloud environment -- for instance, SaaS -- for people to choose from. Customers are no longer necessarily locked in with some of the traditional ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems.

A simple example is Workday. Traditionally people will load balance PeopleSoft and later Oracle applications. Now they can choose go to Workday to run their human resources applications, and many of those applications are hosted in a cloud environment that is built on a shared infrastructure supporting multi-tenancy. So, the network environment is fundamentally very different in comparison to an enterprise-owned data center. Multi-tenancy becomes a critical requirement. The ability to load-balanceapplications across both physical and virtual environments becomes a critical requirement. The optimization of bandwidth and latency become a critical requirement.

Instead of load-balancing traffic across physical servers, we now need to load-balance across both physical and virtual servers and resources. There are new overlay technologies that have emerged in the last six to nine months, such as VXLAN [Virtual Extensible LAN], which I expect is going to be as common as VLAN in the next few years. On top of that, you have this whole movement to open networking and software defined networking, and to OpenFlow and OpenStack. Now, with the capabilities of application delivery platforms, we can use that and knowledge at a higher layer to control what Layer 2 and 3 switches and routers are going to do.

The idea of ADCs using their knowledge of the upper layers of the OSI stack to control Layer 2 and 3 devices makes me think specifically of OpenFlow. Are you talking about orchestration of the network through a northbound API to an SDN controller, or direct control by the ADC?

Cheng: I'm not trying to boil the ocean here. I'm thinking of very specific use cases where the [ADC] actually has awareness of applications. I can envision -- and some of these things we are working on -- collaboration of Layer 2 and 3 switches and routers with the [ADC], where it can program the network to better handle certain types of applications.

A good example of this is video -- to identify a better path in the network to forward traffic to minimize latency. So, you will hear in 2013 about some of these new capabilities.

Can you talk about how your ADCs would communicate with Layer 2 and 3 devices?

Cheng: Like you said, OpenFlow is a perfect one, and perhaps not [the] only one -- but a perfect protocol for us to provide a southbound interface to the switches and routers.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, news director.

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