There has been a lot of buzz about SDN's ability to reduce time-to-market for new protocols and network functions by treating the SDN controller as a platform, extensible through API-integrated "applications." In fact, the concept of SDN as a platform and its promotion of an ecosystem approach is critical for future success.
As it turns out, this isn't a novel concept. The importance of platforms and ecosystems was brought to the fore in June 2007 when Google introduced Android. Today, we identify our choice in mobile phones and devices by platform -- Android or Apple -- not by manufacturer or device brand. Applications available in respective platform stores -- the "ecosystem" -- are categorized by platform, not specific product. Both are inarguably successful due to the strength of the platform approach. Undoubtedly, platforms, whether viewed through the lens of consumer or data center requirements, are a key factor to "mobile" success.
Similarly, the platform-ecosystem approach is key to ensuring that an ADC is able to continue to respond rapidly by extending the ecosystem of services to include whatever new capability might be necessary. It is the platform that enables new services to be rapidly developed or integrated and released as part of the ecosystem. It is the platform that ensures interoperability between services by providing a common framework upon which new services can be deployed.
This platform approach is not focused on the benefit it provides to the ADC vendor. While a vendor basing its offering on a platform certainly has a competitive advantage to rapidly incorporate new market-driven services, it is the customer who ultimately benefits the most from this platform approach.
By standardizing on an ADC platform, an organization can choose which services to deploy based on operational and business needs. And although the organization might deploy many instances of an ADC -- all with different sets of services -- the advantage is that the underlying management remains the same. This is akin to the notion of unifying the switching fabric with OpenFlow and SDN; consolidation on a single platform enables consistent management and configuration across what is likely a very large installed base. So too, a platform-based ADC provides the same consistency across environments.
Along with operational consistency comes rapid extensibility. The value of SDN lies primarily in its applications -- those network services that can be deployed on the central SDN controller. This model promises to enable IT to be in control of its own network destiny; to deploy services on the basis of need rather than on vendor release schedules.