Software-Defined Networks and the Maturing of the Internet

April 30, 2014

Nick McKeown gives The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s prestigious 2014 Appleton Lecture on April 30th, 2014 at 10:30am PDT (6:30pm BST)

The genius of the pioneers of the Internet was to keep the network of links and routers – the “plumbing” – dumb and minimal, placing as much of the intelligence as possible in the computers at the edge.Our computers at the edges could be upgraded over time to add new features – such as congestion control and security – without having to change the network. A streamlined network could focus on forwarding packets as fast as possible. A simple network is easier to manage and it was designed from the outset to be controlled in a distributed, rather than centralized, way. A simple network with distributed control allowed for organic, explosive growth in the 1990s, with small businesses popping up everywhere to offer Internet service. But over time the network became more and more bloated, straying far from the original intent, with thousands of complicated features locked inside closed, vertically integrated routers.

Networks became harder to manage, and those who own large networks fell under a stranglehold from their equipment vendors. Innovation was slow, equipment was unreliable and profit margins were through the roof. The networking industry of the 2000s turned into the mainframe industry of the 1980s.

Along came companies building data centres with thousands of switches and routers, with a pressing need to place the network under their control. Over-priced firewalls and load-balancers were replaced with homegrown software running on servers.  Routers and switches were simplified, making them more reliable, lower-cost and lower-power.

The entire network was placed under the control of software created using modern software practices. The software defined network (SDN) was born. In turn, SDN made it easier to use the servers, storage and network more efficiently by virtualising the network; network virtualisation was born.

In this talk Nick McKeown, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Stanford University will explain why software-defined networks and network virtualisation are an inevitable stage in the maturation of the Internet.