The Intel® Development Forum in Beijing took place two weeks ago and the interest in my two SDN-related presentations was very high.


My poster chat drew about 40 or so people who stopped by in groups of 6-8 to hear the high-level overview to the Intel SDN story.  The attendance more than doubled for my conference session, where I went a bit deeper into Intel’s new data center and telecom network transformation initiative – giving a preview of the three product announcements made at the Open Networking Summit.


One challenge that is unique to China is scaling new web services for a potential market of 1.3 billion people – almost four times that of the U.S.  There were a lot of questions on this topic from top service providers, which I took to indicate that scaling is very important.


The other difference I noticed is that with less of a legacy network infrastructure than in the U.S., Chinese network managers are very open to trying new things to get the scalability and performance they need to deliver great service levels.


One key element of my presentation was a deep dive into why new networking platforms, like ONP introduced at ONS, are so necessary to advance the state of the art of SDN, and to providing ease of scaling in these high performance data centers.


As the server virtualization trend expanded into network virtualization, building high-performance, low-latency networks became much more complex for enterprises and data center operators.  New IP protocols like TRILL helped, but maintaining server/network coherency became very labor intensive.


To network managers dealing with this challenge, the SDN promise of separating the network control plan into a central network controller architecture was an immediate solution to a nagging problem.  And, first-generation networking products delivered on this promise by layering SDN onto existing switches. 


But the promise of SDN is much bigger than that; it’s nothing short of opening networks to a wave of innovation around new software functionality along with additional network cost-per-bit reductions. That’s the total story that ONP delivers on.


The potential of SDN for network innovation mirrors the transition from proprietary mini computer to the PC, which spawned countless innovations thanks to its combination of standard processors and operating systems and value-added applications.


In the network version of this story, enterprises evolve from vertically integrated networking platforms that are closed and slow to innovate, to a more open system with standardized switch silicon that has an open API to the control plane (or control planes for specialized applications).  These control planes then communicate through another API with apps running on a virtual server. 


This means that a network that had to be architected around special appliances to do packet inspection or provide security can now have those applications running on a high-performance server. The global controller will know what packets need to be processed by that application and will direct them to the application before forwarding them to their destination.


This architecture breaks down many of the barriers to entry in this market.  For new players, all they need are their software skills to develop their application. They can sell it into any network that supports the open API – regardless of the manufacturer.  On the other side of the coin, an existing software company can use standard hardware to easily develop its own complete solution, speeding time to market.


For every company that needs to scale quickly and keep network costs and complexity low – especially in fast growing economies like China – this is really good news.