We are being to enter the era of software defined networking (SDN), an emerging paradigm where network control logic (learning and forwarding decisions) is decoupled from the underlying physical network topology (routers, switches).
To quote from Nick Feamster who is the Darnell-Kanal Associate Professor of Computer Science at University of Maryland:
Separating a network’s control logic from the underlying physical routers and switches that forward traffic allows operators to write high-level control programs that specify the behavior of an entire network, in contrast to conventional networks, whereby network operators must codify functionality in terms of low-level device configuration.
Logically centralized network control makes it possible for operators to specify more complex tasks that involve integrating many disjoint network functions (e.g., security, resource control, prioritization) into a single control framework, allowing network operators to create more sophisticated policies, and making network configurations easier to configure, manage, troubleshoot, and debug.
Networking companies are positioning themselves for this new era. Recently Juniper Networks announced a $176M purchase of SDN startup Contrail Systems who is reported to be working on an open standards-based SDN controller. Both Cisco with it’s OPEN (Open Programmable Environment for Networking) SDN architecture and their recent acquisition of Cariden, and VMware already have solutions. Alcatel-Lucent has announced that it is creating a unit that will focus SDN solutions.