The Intel Developer Forum conference always covers a wide range of technologies and products, reflecting Intel’s influence and footprint across the whole high-tech industry. Last week’s IDF in San Francisco was no exception, with major topics such as the Haswell architecture, ultrabooks, all-in-ones, Windows 8, advanced graphics and security all being heavily promoted and receiving masses of press coverage.

However, despite all the attention on these laptop, PC and server topics, it was interesting to see that a large number of attendees were clearly focused on high-end networking and communications technologies. I attended several technical sessions on Software Defined Networks (SDN), packet processing and networking trends. Each was packed, with the presentations themselves being followed by intense Q&A sessions indicating strong interest in these areas.

In our booth, we discussed how 6WIND’s software solutions address critical performance challenges for SDN, in both mobile infrastructure and cloud infrastructure applications. We explained the enhancements that we have developed for Intel’s Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) software. Many attendees picked up a copy of the white paper that we recently authored with Intel, titled “Optimized Data Plane Processing Solutions using the Intel DPDK”, available here.

Overwhelmingly, the conference attendees that I talked to believed that the SDN concept has enormous potential, both in terms of improving network manageability and enabling a new class of network applications. Several representatives from mobile operators confirmed that they expected to achieve significant OPEX savings through the application of cloud networking concepts to their core networks (the much-discussed mobile-cloud convergence trend). And I talked to some data center experts who confirmed our view that there are two key points in the data center where high-performance data plane processing is required: the network appliances in the aggregation layer and the virtual switch on the application server blades.

Throughout all these conversations, it was clear that there’s still significant uncertainty about exactly how the various SDN concepts will be adopted. While there’s widespread agreement on the benefits that SDN provides compared to traditional network architectures and implementations, there’s little consensus in terms of when specific product categories will be introduced or what additional standards (beyond OpenFlow and OpenStack) need to emerge for truly widespread deployments.

It’s obvious, however, that investment dollars continue to pour into SDN companies, judging by the number of startups that were at IDF to investigate what other SDN companies in the ecosystem are doing and to explore partnership opportunities.

With most of the SDN companies currently focused on control plane orchestration and management technologies, it was encouraging to see so much interest in 6WIND’s solutions for solving the key data plane performance challenges. The networking data plane is the basic foundation on which advanced data center architectures are built and high-performance data plane software such as 6WINDGate™ is key to the overall throughput and latency of the data center.

At 6WIND, we will continue to work with other SDN companies, including many that we met this week, to ensure that 6WINDGate interfaces efficiently and synchronizes seamlessly with the appropriate control plane, orchestration and management solutions, thereby providing operators with the full benefits of interoperable, high-performance SDN implementations.

Were you at IDF last week? What were the key SDN trends, topics and issues that you observed?