Does SDN represent the evolution of Network Management ? Yes but No It Doesn’t

In his blog post (from Nov 2011), Alvaro Retana from HP is making the case that SDN / OpenFlow is just another Network Management solution. In his conclusion, he writes:

SDN is a step in the right direction—toward making the network more dynamic and self-adaptable, but it currently represents the evolution of network management, not the evolution of networking.

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I would agree that it’s true that SDN1 is better network management than we have today (most of which is a wasteland of disappointment). I believe that today’s Network Management is achieved using sub-standard protocols that have poor APIs. Network Management is based on the use of certain protocols to provide input data to the management platform and for networking. Those protocols are SNMP, Telnet/SSH and maybe some RMON or SNMP traps. These protocols are very limited in their capability. Although SNMP & RMON were designed in a different time when CPU and memory were constrained and device soft

Vendors have consistently demonstrated an unwillingness to adopt new protocols such as NETCONF/YANG that might expose richer data and information. The value of OpenFlow as part of Software Defined Networking is that it can combine with existing protocols to finally provide meaningful impact to the configuration and operation to the data plane.

Current network management platform strategies, as typified by HP OpenView platform, have consistently failed to deliver any value to networking. Indeed, any mention of HP OpenView to Network Engineers will result in laughter, outright scorn and horror filled war stories. And yet, OpenView continues to be sold to management & executives. We do need better Network Management tools, but those existing products such as Cisco Prime/CiscoWorks and OpenView are clearly proven to NOT be an answer.

I wrote previously about Network Hierarchy of Needs and how our networks evolve from simple to complex, at the same time moving from dumb to growing awareness and intelligence. To my mind, Network Management of DATA Networking has not been delivered by any company. Our existing tools are not good enough, or surely one of them would have developed something worthwhile by now.

Therefore, I reject his proposition that OpenFlow/SDN is only about Network Management, and believe that it offers much more because the underlying tools give us much more capability and functionality. Rich tools and APIs deliver rich applications and capabilities and that’s what Networking needs to meet the virtualization challenge over the next five years.

I think that Alvaro might be trying to visualise the future using the frame of yesterday’s legacy tools, such as HP OpenView. And that’s a sure path to avoid innovation. In my view, HP needs to either throw out OpenView because it’s static, hard to use, poor tools, and lack of flexibility or, at the very least, significantly change that Business Units approach to adapt to the next generation of dynamic networking. The OpenView team have never managed to deliver anything significant to Data Networking in the last fifteen years.

I’m confident that the future of SDN isn’t going to look like HP OpenView product strategy (or BMC or Tivoli for that matter) because that’s yesterday’s model for technology automation. Tomorrow’s vision of network operations with orchestration and automation will be quite different.

As Alvaro writes in his second last paragraph

SDN is a new networking architecture. It is not a complete clean slate, but a new start. SDN represents a time to innovate and optimize, to take full advantage of all the industry has learned. But SDN is also at a point where the basic Infrastructure needs are being addressed: connectivity, network management, routing. ……

Sadly, that probably won’t stop the big vendors from trying to do it anyway and attempt to make their legacy platforms use SDN or even become “Cloud Ready”.


Alvaro Retana – Does SDN represent the evolution of networking? – The HP Blog Hub

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  1. SDN = Software Defined Networking ↩
  • Ofer

    You are clearly not aware of Alcatel-Lucent’s 5620 SAM – the only living evidence that NMS does make sense and can bring value! ask anyone who had any experience with it.

    that said, i do agree network mgmt protocols did not advance the way they should have.

  • Lindsay Hill

    A few things, from someone working in the NMS space:
    * Network Node Manager to me has always been more of a Network Monitoring solution, rather than a Network Management one. They’ve recently started trying to better integrate Network Automation, to orchestrate the network, but it doesn’t match up with the marketing “single pane of glass, fully integrated” nonsense. Even though it is a Network Monitoring tool, it has always done performance management poorly. They’re trying to improve that, but I think it has a way to go.
    * HP got rid of the OpenView brand about 5 years ago. I’m no big fan of re-branding exercises, and I still occasionally slip and call it OpenView, but we should try and be a bit more up to date/precise with our naming. NNMi (Network Node Manager i) is the current name for what was once OpenView. Later OpenView was extended to cover more products, but once it was just the network management piece. 
    * To those with horror stories, be aware that the product was basically completely re-written at version 8.x. If people have only seen the older Motif-based version, then it’s been a while since they’ve seen it. That’s not at all to say the new version is perfect, but it is quite a different animal. Not just the interface either, it is significantly different underneath.
    * Agree with the lack of flexibility. You can’t even do something as simple as set a custom device icon in the current version.
    * I’m personally quite interested in HP’s IMC. Completely different history/development teams, even though both NNM and IMC are from the same company, and have a fair bit of overlap. I think that it may – and I stress may – play into an SDN strategy much better, due to the thinking that’s gone into APIs, and product flexibility. I’m hoping to speak to some more HP Networking people in the next few weeks, to find out more about the longer term path here.

    Disclaimer: I don’t work for HP directly, but my company is an HP partner, and part of my role involves working with the HP Software product suite, and HP’s IMC. We also work with other vendors.

  • Casimer DeCusatis

    SDN (which includes both OpenFlow and overlay networks) is indeed a radical departure from prior network management approaches.  Traditionally network management has been a huge problem, and only highly specialized skilled people have been able to make it work.  One driver to change this going forward is the trend towards integrated server, storage, and networking.  If clients are going to consume IT differently than in the past, we’ll be forced to provide better integrated management of virtual and physical resources, including the network.  I can imagine an approach where an integrated hardware platform spawns an ecosystem of software management overlays for the data center, just like the app store for your smart phone.  Perhaps there is hope that we’ll end up on the path to a more easily managed network after all.  

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