Us heathens down in marketing are notorious for abusing words like “integration”. We break out the thesaurus and hold little parties where we come up with the most metaphorically colorful way to articulate the value of an integration that took a developer less than a day to put together. (Did you see that? “Metaphorically colorful” is meaningless yet seemingly profound at the same time.)Thank you for Libby for licensing Creative Commons. Find the source here: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/libbyandnicki/6830757913/

The Land of SDN in particular is rife with the word integration. It’s no surprise, actually. In fact, it is a necessity as we move from loosely coupled networks with IP being the lowest common denominator to more tightly coupled networks linked by rich APIs. However, not all APIs are the same and the work required to integrate them are definitely not the same. Integration at the API level is not unlike friendship. You can think of it in three levels: Facebook friends, dinner party friends, and college buddies.

Comparing this to SDN integrations we see that Facebook friends are the ones that only respond strictly to automation APIs — the automation scripts know you’re there, but they don’t know anything beyond that.

Dinner party friends go a step further and do basic data plane integration with legacy IP level service insertion (next-hop routing), but the conversation is light and legacy IP integration will never be told about the business policies that really drive the conversation.

College buddies, the ones that have seen you intoxicated and still spoke to you the next day, are the true integrations in SDNs and the ones to look for. In this tier of integration, you’re going to find next-generation service chaining and deep telemetry integration for high performance scale-out designs. These are the integrations that require developers to get in front of a whiteboard for days and sort out detailed understanding of each other’s architectures and how they need to come together in production grade networks.

In the Land of SDN, you’re going to see a lot of announcements of alliances and integrations coming from a variety of companies telling a menagerie of stories. As you read these, read carefully and look for the depth of these integration claims. Press releases are easy — you can be a Facebook friend and do that. True integrations, however, are going to be the ones that actually make SDN work for your network.