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Software-defined networking (SDN), the concept that's so hot VMware spent $US1.05 billion buying market leader Nicira, is on the way to becoming a standard for telecommunications networks.

SDN is the networking world’s equivalent of server virtualisation. The latter made it possible to treat a single physical server as several logical virtual servers, thanks to the presence of a hypervisor to manage the resources of the underlying hardware. SDN promises a similar disruption by making it possible for a server to control the network and the appliances that control it, often bypassing the smarts built into bit-moving-boxen.

The push for a standard has emerged from the group of Chief Technology Officers that met as part of the International Telecommunications Union's annual standards events. The CTO group included representatives from Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, Fujitsu, NTT, NEC and Verizon.

The communiqué (PDF) issued by the group “identified SDN as a potential means to allow carrier networks to develop and deploy new services with great speed and flexibility” and also “requested that ITU-T continue exploring the applications of SDN in access networks, mobile backhaul, broadband network gateways, metro networks, and optical transport networks.”

The CTOs also recommended that the ITU establish a Focus Group and figure out how it can make a contribution to SDN standards without repeating work being undertaken by other organisations.

The move to standardise SDN is a further sign of the technique’s popularity and potency, but may also be viewed as a useful flanking move by Cisco, which is often considered the company with most to lose if generic servers and a software stack take control of networks.

VMware has repeatedly said it does not see its Nicira acquisition as a threat to Cisco, which it says could repeat Intel’s experience of chasing in by building virtualisation-friendly features into its products.

An ITU spokesperson has told The Register the The World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) will likely sign off on an ITU SDN effort this week. ®

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