Until this month, hot start-up companies - one of which was recently bought for $1.2 billion - have dominated the market for software-defined network (SDN) controllers. 


But HP’s announcement of its Virtual Application Networks SDN Controller signaled a sea change.  The credibility and worldwide reach that HP brings to the market opens the door for more mainstream customers to consider SDN.


For HP and other switch manufacturers, though, the growth in the number of controllers increases the need for flexible switch architectures. 


The Intel® Seacliff Trail SDN switch reference design can give these manufacturers the flexibility for the controller diversity that is emerging in this market.


One of Seacliff Trail’s key flexibility benefits is the use of the server-class Crystal Forest platform featuring the Gladden CPU.  With this computing power, the switch can be programmed for multiple controllers in the event that the data center supports multiple vendors.


Another interesting use case is running the controller on the switch itself.  This may seem counterintuitive, since the point of SDN is to separate the controller from the hardware, but in many large data centers there will be a need for multiple or hierarchical controllers, and the ability to deploy these without adding multiple servers is an attractive alternative.


The second key adaptability advantage that Seacliff Trail has is the use of the Intel® Ethernet Switch Family FM6000 switch chip itself.  In terms of flexibility, these chips feature the programmable Intel® FlexPipe™ frame-processing pipeline that can be updated by a switch maker to support their controller, as well as to support IP traffic.


The success of these early SDN controller companies will breed more competition. Intel is ready to offer switch platforms and reference designs that can support the changes that these new players will bring to this market.