Q&A: Taking Software Defined Networking Outside the Data Center

Most of the time, we think of Software-Defined Networking as something that lives within the data center. But what happens when we take the theories behind SDN and apply them elsewhere?

Last week, I sat down with Avaya Vice President of Fabric and Infrastructure, Liam Kiely, to talk about networking, SDN and the future.

Mark Fletcher: Hey, it’s Fletch with the Avaya Podcast Network, and we’re here live at the Avaya Technology Forum 2014 in Orlando, Florida, sitting down with one of the very first guests we ever had on the Avaya Podcast Network, Liam Kiely, who’s the Vice President of Fabric and Infrastructure at Avaya. Welcome once again to the podcast.

Liam Kiely: Thank you. It’s great to be back, Fletch. I’m looking forward to our chat here this morning.

Mark Fletcher: What’s one area of networking that you think is not being talked about enough and why?

Liam Kiely: What’s been over-talked about is SDN, and in a way, the unfortunate consequence of that is SDN, as discussed in the industry today, is predominantly confined to the data center, with some discussion of public-service-provider applications outside of that. The discussion is missing the whole point being dominated as an entirely data-center-focused initiative. It really narrowly defines the concept.

Even some of the best industry analysts seem to miss this point that the communications and users and applications extend well beyond the data center, and if your concept of an SDN is confined to that space, you really are missing the big picture.

Related article: Top 10 Networking Myths

Mark Fletcher: I think of diversity right off the bat. Everybody wants to be geo-diverse –You’ve got to think outside the data center.

Liam Kiely: Absolutely. Some of our colleagues here at the show today are deploying thousands of cameras. People don’t seem to understand the complexities of these devices: there’s millions of lines of codes, all kinds of applications, embedded web servers, and communication facilities in the cameras. These are servers every bit as much as the applications.

You see virtualized or physical applications inside the data center. There are thousands and thousands of devices of enormous complexity attached elsewhere within the network infrastructure that are missed and outside of the concept that you typically are hearing about in SDN discussions in the trade press.

Mark Fletcher: You need a low-latency network that’s manageable and operable because, like you said, if you were to ask an average IT person, “Hey, what if I’m going to put 1,000 web servers in your network? What would you think about that?” They would look at you like you’re crazy.

Liam Kiely: Absolutely, and they’re doing it with wireless access points, cameras and all other kinds of devices.

We’re seeing Google enter into the residential appliance market in other areas with this proliferation and idea of the Internet of Devices, so that extended concept is missing in the current SDN discussion, which is too narrowly confined to the data center.

Google and Facebook and others are driving an agenda and missing the whole enterprise play around Software Defined Networking.

Fabric Connect technology is at the heart of that. We feel we can build software-controlled networks on a fabric infrastructure and cater to the full scope of real user needs.

Mark Fletcher: What’s the next big thing, as far as you’re concerned? Where do we go?

Liam Kiely: For us, the journey has been starting with virtualizing the core of the enterprise because that’s where the cost, risk and complexity has been greatest. From there, we’ve been moving out to the aggregation layer, to the top-of-rack.

Most recently it’s been with our new product announcement, into the campus wiring closet which is really phenomenal.
So really, we’re celebrating the success and maturity of all of that here at ATF today.

I think what you’re going to see next is a push of the fabric into the further reaches of the network, into the hypervisors within the data center and into the physical devices and other types of server and user devices at the far end, at the access user side of the network.

This is going to be the big news for the next couple of years, extending true SDN concept out to where the users and real devices live, outside of the data center, and even within the data center, extending the fabric reach into the hypervisors and virtual machines from a multi-vendor standpoint.

This needs to get a lot more coverage and discussion. Avaya is there – Our head is completely around this. We’re laying in the plans and partnerships. Some of them you can see at the show here today, Fletch, people who really get it and have a broader vision than the one we’re hearing spoken of in the trade media.

Mark Fletcher: Yeah, it’s not just about talking the talk. It’s walking the walk. When we did that over in Russia at Sochi, right, I mean, we did it from a networking perspective and a wireless perspective. It was just incredible.

Liam Kiely: That’s right, so we’ve needed these proof points, these very public proof points, so that this becomes more widely understood across the industry. Sochi was a tremendous platform for that.

We’ve had spectacular examples in particular verticals, in particular segments across the markets, but there’s nothing like Sochi to raise the awareness to the general public and to the industry at large.

Mark Fletcher: What do you think the clients and distributors that are attending ATF are seeing, what they’re really impressed with this year at ATF? What do you think is really tripping their trigger, so to speak?

Liam Kiely: Well, we’re attracting the people with vision and leadership, and they’re recognizing what we’re doing and seeing the value of it. In a way, they are the vanguard of a much larger body of people who’ll go in behind them, so these people are leading the charge to transform what networking means today.

I think we’re seeing the maturing of Fabric Connect technology, the maturing of fabric in all of its manifestations that we have here today, so that now we’re fitting into more and more applications and a broader, broader appeal to the industry.

But certainly we’ve had our champions and advocates in the customer partner base here and they’re watching and monitoring our progress, and I think they could be very pleased with some of the new announcements on the wireless and some of the new products that we’re announcing here this week.

Mark Fletcher: Yeah, and I think we’ve been showing a progression, too. Last year, Shortest Path Bridging was the big news. The top-of-rack coverage was the big news. Now, we’re extending it even further with the Fabric Connect. It’s just a continuous evolution of something that really does something from a technology perspective. It’s not just technology.

Liam Kiely: That’s right, and it’s not just available on the higher-end platforms or in particular areas of network. We have all the reach and the new products and the VSP family this year. We’re extending the scope of the portfolio to reach the midmarket, so we’re looking for this is not just something for large or complex networks or particular multi-tenant environments.

This is a technology that we believe can extend into the broader market, the midmarket. Everybody can benefit from taking it onboard. The next generation of our networks need to be designed for that.

Mark Fletcher: Yeah, and I think the proof point is that more people are here this year than there were last year, which is a steady increase in attendance, so that’s always a good sign.

Liam Kiely: And it’s active engagement. Everybody’s chatting and there’s engagement. Discussions are lively. There are great exchanges; great new ideas flowing through from the partners and customers about what they want to do. They’re seeing ways and applications that we missed and are defining the next generation of functionality we need to build into our products, so it’s a very exciting time.

Mark Fletcher: I’m talking to Liam Kiely, who is the Vice President of Fabric and Infrastructure at Avaya. Thanks so much for sitting down with us. Again, one of our inaugural interviewees from last year and back again a year later with a great story. Thanks very much.

Liam Kiely: Thank you, Fletch, a pleasure.

Want more technology, news and information from Avaya? Be sure to check out the Avaya Podcast Network landing page at http://avaya.com/APN. There, you will find additional podcasts from industry events, such as Avaya Evolutions and INTEROP, as well as other informative series by the APN staff.

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