Although similar to NetFlow in name, that’s where the similarities end. OpenFlow is an open-source programmable protocol to implement the concept of software-defined networking.
Like cloud abstracts storage, and virtualization separates apps from servers, software-defined networking tries to decouple packet-routing intelligence from the communication infrastructure. As a recent NetworkWorld article explained, “OpenFlow [is] a programmable network protocol designed to manage and direct traffic among switches from various vendors, which separates the networking data plane and hardware from the controller which tells the hardware where to forward which packets.”
What are the potential benefits of shifting to software-defined networking? Reduced costs and improved routing efficiency. Current top-of-the-line switches are expensive due to their processing power and intelligence. The thought behind OpenFlow is that in removing the logic, components, and structure from infrastructure by placing the controller elsewhere, the infrastructure can be commoditized, leading to significant cost reductions. The controller maintains a view of the entire infrastructure and makes routing decisions based on the link quality, rather than the current localized views of routing tables which typically make decisions based upon more rudimentary variables such as the number of hops in a path.
How will this change monitoring? While OpenFlow won’t impact a network manager’s life today, it’s definitely something to keep in mind. It’s something that we’re going to see more of first in large-scale environments, and in the coming years within average network environments. With the centralized perspective the controller offers, it will make monitoring simpler, potentially reducing the need for flow technologies by providing similar reporting and summarization. But it won’t provide views of packets. Your skills in analyzing packets will always be essential for troubleshooting and maintaining performance.