From dumb to smarter switches in software defined networks:
an overview of data plane evolution

Giuseppe Bianchi (University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy)

Antonio Capone (Politecnico di Milano, Italy)



Coined in 2009, the term Software Defined Networking (SDN) has gained significant momentum in the last years. SDN’s promises to enable easier and faster network innovation, by making networks programmable and more agile, and by centralizing and simplifying their control. Even if some SDN’s programmable networking ideas date back to the mid of the 90s, and do not nearly restrict to device-level programmability and to OpenFlow, it is fair to say that OpenFlow is the technology which brought SDN to the real world.
The separation between control and data plane is highlighted as a distinguishing feature of SDN, and sometimes even postulated as the SDN definition itself. But should such a separation necessarily take the form of a physical separation, namely a “smart” controller (or network of controlling entities), which runs the control logic for “dumb” switching fabrics? This was the case with the original OpenFlow, as its “match/action” programmatic abstraction necessarily resorts on an external controller for (reactively or proactively) updating forwarding policies in the switches’ flow tables.
Recently, the possibility of enriching the programmatic abstraction of OpenFlow to allow forwarding rules to evolve over time without directly involving the controller has emerged as a major trend in SDN research. This requires an evolution of the data plane that allows incorporating the ability to execute some kind of logic for reacting to events and modifying rules. This tutorial will discuss potential limits of SDN applications fully based on controllers and provide an overview of the trends in data plane evolutions analyzing advantages and potential risks.


Giuseppe Bianchi is Full Professor of Telecommunications at the School of Engineering of the University of Roma Tor Vergata, current chair of the relevant Bachelor/Master teaching programme in Internet Technology engineering, and former chair of the Telecommunications and microelectronics PhD programme.
His research activity, documented in about 180 peer-reviewed papers accounting for more than 10000 Google citations, spans several areas including wireless LANs, privacy and security, design and performance evaluation of broadband networks, network monitoring. His analytical models concerning the performance analysis of 802.11 WLAN networks are well known in the research community.
He has been editor for IEEE/ACM Trans. on Networking and he's currently editor for Elsevier's Computer communication, and area editor for IEEE Trans. on Wireless Communications. He has (co-)chaired more than 10 international IEEE/ACM conferences/workshops, the latest one being IEEE Infocom 2014 and the next one being ACM CoNext 2015. He has been involved in more than 10 European funded project, with general and/or technical coordination roles for the projects FP6-DISCREET (privacy in smart environments), FP7-PRISM (privacy-preserving network monitoring), FP7-DEMONS (distributed network monitoring) and FP7-FLAVIA (programmable wireless systems).

Antonio Capone is Full Professor at the Information and Communication Technology Department (DEIB) of the Politecnico di Milano (Technical University), where he is the director of the Advanced Network Technologies Laboratory (ANTLab). Prof. Capone is also co-founder and CTO of MobiMESH, a spin-off company of Politecnico di Milano. His expertise is on networking and his main research activities include protocol design (MAC, routing, resource management) and performance evaluation of wireless access and multi-hop networks, traffic management and quality of service issues in IP networks, network planning and optimization, and Green ICT. On these topics he has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers in international journal and conference proceedings.
He currently serves as editor of ACM/IEEE Trans. on Networking, Wireless Communications and Mobile Computing (Wiley), Computer Networks (Elsevier), and Computer Communications (Elsevier). He was guest editor of a few journal special issues, and served in the technical program committee of many major international conferences, and in several organization roles (including TPC co-chair of INFOCOM 2013, and area chair of INFOCOM 2012, 2014 and 2015). He is a Senior Member of the IEEE.

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