Programming the Tubes

Computers and smart phones can be improved with software updates and new apps. Not so for networks. The way servers, found in company IT rooms and massive data centers, communicate with each other is essentially static, with instructions for traffic flow baked into switches and routers. But not for long.

The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is a collection of big companies including Google, Facebook, and Cisco, that banded together last month to open up networks and make them easier to program. Benefits of a programmable network are vast: faster, more-energy efficient networks, fewer dropped cell phone calls, remotely managed security, and prioritized Internet traffic (which could translate into videos that stream smoother, for instance). My latest in Technology Review explains the implications of the ONF.

The software that has opened up networks is called OpenFlow, developed at UC Berkeley and Stanford. I wrote about OpenFlow’s potential for Technology Review in the 2009 TR10 issue. It’s great to see the concepts and technology break out of academia and be accepted by industry movers and shakers. There should be some interesting improvements in the way traffic flows in as few as two years. And that’s good news for people who use networks, which is, actually, most everyone.

Below is a great video explaining how cleverly programming a network can dramatically reduce its power consumption.

Related links:

Companies Hope to Program the Internet,” a summary of the Open Networking Foundation and its goals for Technology Review (March 31, 2011)

TR10: Software-defined Networking,” an introduction to the concept of open networks, with a focus on Nick McKeown of Stanford, for Technology Review (March/April 2009), the official site of the OpenFlow, featuring explainers and videos about research projects

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