Ireland set to reap benefits from network revolution
Software Defined Networking will give users more control over the operation of systems
New technology aimed at revolutionising how networks are managed could present a major opportunity for Ireland’s high-tech sector.
Software Defined Networking is set to irrevocably change how networks operate, allowing them to be programmed in much the same way as computers, giving service providers the opportunity to offer new services, and making it cheaper and easier to make networks do new things.
And Ireland’s software expertise gives the economy another potential source of revenue through SDN, a major figure in the industry has said.
The change in the way networks operate has been a long time coming.
“In the past, the network operation was determined by the people who built the equipment inside the networks,” explains Dan Pitt, executive director with the Open Networking Foundation.
“Only they could instruct their networking devices to do certain things. And what they could do was really quite limited because it was expensive to develop features. You could only develop features that had a very large market.”
The new services could be anything from providing VPNs with security, or perhaps implementing guaranteed data border control for government agencies.
“Virtualisation of computers and applications, virtual machines, has enabled data centre operators to increase the utilisation of their equipment and thereby reduce their costs anywhere from 30 per cent to 70 per cent. We’re doing the same thing with networking for the first time,” explains Pitt.
“Telecom operators are eager for that, because their traffic is going up so fast that their revenues can’t keep up with it.”
Pitt compares the impact that SDN will have on the world of networking to the changes in the computing industry in the past three decades.
“Putting network control into the hands of those who operate and use networks, and anyone they want to hire or procure from, really helps to democratise this technology,” he says.
“We’ve been in an age of mainframe-like networking devices. The computing industry got over that in 1980 with the introduction of the PC and different processors, operating systems and applications.”
The non-profit Open Networking Foundation has been working towards setting standards for this new networking capability.
Set up in March 2011 by Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon and Yahoo! it has since grown to more than 90 members, with one of the most recent being Irish-based Intune Networks.
The technologies behind software-defined networking were pioneered at Stanford and the University of California. Although initially dismissed by some quarters as an academic idea that would fail in the real world, recent advances have finally made SDN a reality.
“This is really going to change networking forever,” says Pitt. “It’s really about time. Once people get used to programming the network, they’re going to look back and say, ‘How did we do it the old way for so long, how could we live without being able to programme the network?”
Silicon chip work
There have been several factors that finally turned the technology from a theoretical academic project into a reality for businesses everywhere.
The first was the availability of merchant silicon for ethernet switches, produced on the mass market. Second, Pitt says, was the development and implementation of distributed systems computing with high reliability.
The organisation has been trying to build a worldwide market for SDN, and it is one that Ireland could take advantage of.
“Ireland is well suited to benefit from software defined networking. I see a lot of value going into chips and software. Ireland’s had a lot of silicon chip work, and during the Celtic Tiger, was known for software in Europe,” he says. Software opportunities abound for SDN.”