Network and telecommunications equipment vendors are not exactly renowned for playing nicely together, having historically exhibited a special type of narcissism which has caused no end of problems for the network and operations managers left to find ways of forcing different products to communicate efficiently.
Newly kitted out, greenfield hosting facilities can present a slightly easier task but the majority of data centres have been gradually expanded and upgraded over time. So much so that the network infrastructure can resemble fragmented layers of archaeological stratification where different brands and types of switches, routers and line cards are jumbled together but often unconnected, and demand a far more complex approach to management and configuration than is desirable.
One of the great promises of SDN is that it will ease that complexity by abstracting applications and services from the underlying physical hardware (separating the data plane from the control plane), virtualising them and allowing them to be programmed, provisioned and managed using a centralised software controller.
That does, of course, require that different vendor hardware supports the same technology approach to SDN (such as OpenFlow, NSX or ACI for example).which in turn demands a lot of work on interoperability. Some of this is being carried out by bodies such as the Open Network Foundation, and some by the hardware vendors themselves. Progress is being made, but a healthy amount of scepticism remains and most service providers quite rightly want proof that the open SDN network can become a reality.
The 88th meeting of the London Internet Exchange (LINX88) to be held in London in February 2015 will see one such demonstration, with Imtech ICT consultants showing how interoperable SDN/NFV platforms can be made to work in the real data centre world.