Sunday, June 9, 2013

Angry SDN hipsters.

Some folks seem to get a little too hung up on one philosophy or another -- too blind to see good in any other form except the notions that have evolved in their mind.  I'm hoping I'm not one of them.  I do have opinions, but which I believe are rational.

The counter culture of networking waves the SDN banner.  That acronym seems to belong to them.  They don't know what it stands for yet, but one thing they seem to be sure of is that nothing good can come by allowing networking innovations to evolve or even to exist in their birthplace.

The way I see evolving the network fabric is through improving on the best of the past.  Every profession I know from medicine, finance, law, mathematics, physics, you name it -- all of them are building their tomorrow on a mountain of past knowledge and experience.  So I'm sure my feeling the same about the network doesn't make me outdated, just maybe not a fashionable SDN hipster.

Some angry SDN hipsters say that the core network needs to be dumbed down.  They must have had a "bad childhood," technically speaking.  One too many Cisco 6500's stuffed with firewalls, load balancers and other things that didn't belong there.  Maybe even a few with a computer or two crammed into them.  I'm not sure I can feel sorry for you if that was your experience.  Maybe you didn't realize that was a bad idea until it was too late.  Maybe you were too naive and didn't know how to strike the right balance in your core network.  Whatever it was, I can assure you that your experience isn't universal, and neither is your opinions about how tomorrow should or shouldn't be.

Those who couldn't figure out how to manage complexity yesterday won't be able to figure it out tomorrow.  Tomorrow will come and soon become yesterday and they'll still be out there searching.  Endlessly.  Never realizing that the problem wasn't so much the network, it was them and the next big company that they put their trust in.

I had a great experience building great networks.  I stayed away from companies that didn't give me what I needed to get the job done right.  The network was a heck of a lot easier to manage than computers in my day, and the technology has kept pace in almost every aspect.  You see Amazon and Google aren't the only ones that can build great infrastructure.  And some of us don't need help from VMWare thank you.

So mister angry SDN hipster, do us all a favor and don't keep proposing to throw the baby out with the bath water.  We know your pain and see your vision too, but ours might not be so narrow.


  1. [full disclosure: I work on a startup in the SDN space, so my view is both vendor and non-legacy]

    Wow, I admit you got a reaction out of me. I think that associating SDN advocates with hipsters immediately frames your point of view. It sort of runs counter to your initial statement of neutrality.

    I actually don't think most of the central SDN players advocate throwing everything out and not using it. But starting with everything in as the default is odd. You will never sift through three decades of crap to pull everything out you don't need.

    When you move to a new house, you pack the things you want. You don't start with the things you don't want. This is how people routinely declutter and manage a somewhat sane existence.

    With networking, I would expect something similar. Don't start with everything and extract knob after knob, protocol after protocol. Pack up what you need. Go spartan. Make it simple and clean. And then pick from the pile of protocols you have left behind those that make the most sense. There is no need to re-invent OSPF and BGP - use them. But being perpetually burdened by decades of crap doesn't make any sense to me.

    Mike (@mbushong)

    1. My statement is not about neutrality, it's about balance. And as I tweeted earlier, I have nothing against SDN advocates. If you see my previous blog post, I'm an advocate myself of bringing meaningful change and innovation to the DC network. But I disagree with any message that paints a negative picture of one thing for the purpose of making another thing look better.

      What I see happening is that some customers and vendors are identifying, from three decades of experience, what is relevant for the DC, refactoring and evolving this technology, and building products that are fine tuned for the DC. An example of what is being sifted out and applied to the data center are two standards-based control-plane protocols (BGP, OSPF or ISIS -- or no IGP at all if you prefer draft-lapukhov-bgp-routing-large-dc) and two BGP-based distributed control-plane applications (E-VPN for L2 DCVPN and IP-VPN for L3 DCVPN). That's not a mountain of crap. There is also room for Openflow-based or other traffic engineering where it is required. On top of this is innovation in the management plane to close the long standing gaps with management and automation.

      No decades of crap here -- just a subset needed for the DC, built on proven technology.