Open Networking Turns 5 – Looking Ahead

Five years ago, Dell embraced a radical notion — the disaggregation of networking hardware and software to give customers more flexibility, better investment protection and a clear path to future innovation. This new networking paradigm gave customers the ability to break free from proprietary, monolithic and costly networking appliances. Open Networking was born.

This disaggregated approach, which started in the data center with top-of-rack (ToR) switches, quickly led to a profusion of innovation and efficiency, allowing hardware and software vendors alike to focus on the aspects of the stack they know best.

On the software side, Open Networking has created big opportunities for companies such as BigSwitch, Cumulus, Pluribus Networks and even Microsoft with its open source Software for Open Networking in the Cloud (SONiC). Pure software players have enjoyed a bigger role in driving network efficiency, functionality and capability, and startups can focus on creating innovative networking functions without having to manage investments in hardware development and manufacturing.

For hardware vendors, Open Networking has led to a more standards-based, collaborative design approach, using off-the-shelf silicon and enabling manufacturers to deliver better-than-ever performance and quality, at lower costs.

And all of that gets us to the heart of what Open Networking is about: Giving customers unprecedented flexibility and choice, cost savings, ease of management, time to value, time to innovation and a network that creates measurable business value.

Over the last five years we’ve brought Open Networking to a range of Dell solutions, such as the modular and massively innovative PowerEdge MX platform, and to hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) with the introduction of Dell Smart Fabric Services, an “easy button” to radically simplify and automate network configuration—the hardest aspect of HCI implementation. SmartFabric Services reduces up to 98% of the network configuration steps and administration through integration with VxRail Manager and VMware vSphere.

Dell OS10 SmartFabric Services for VxRail video

So, where will Open Networking go next?

Next Evolution: Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN) & Campus

The next evolution takes the same premise of allowing software to play a greater role and applies it to other places in the network beyond the data center, such as SD-WAN.

Enterprises have long faced the challenge of enabling their remote sites to connect with each other and communicate. Traditionally, they accomplished this by using function-specific appliances, but today, innovative software like VMware SD-WAN by VeloCloud is making it possible to address this challenge running on x86-based infrastructure, or as a virtual machine as part of a larger network function virtualization deployment.

In the near future, we can expect the Open Networking model to expand beyond its roots in the data center to campus networks. Dell’s hardware roadmap contemplates this shift, with major updates to our campus portfolio planned in 2019.

And of course, there is 5G. As service providers roll out 5G, geographic distribution will be a challenge if they choose to use function-specific appliances. That would mean putting single-use equipment in certain un-serviced locations simply to prepare for the possibility that services will be needed there someday.

Instead, they could deploy multi-purpose resources close to the edge and use software to deploy specific services as the need arises. If that is the chosen approach, we can expect to see another wave of innovation and progress, as hyperscale organizations like service providers often drive most of the initial growth for open technologies.

It’s been five years of steady improvements in Open Networking, and there is a great deal of opportunity remaining. As always, Dell will continue to be a leader in pushing for and providing standards-based, open technology. The abundance of innovation and unquestionable success of Open Networking is a shining example of why we champion this approach.

When every vendor involved in a product is free to operate at their highest level of specialization and in close collaboration with each other, the customer wins. Learn more about Open Networking here.

About the Author: Tom Burns