Hardware reigned supreme in the networking world until the emergence of software-defined networking (SDN), a category of technologies that separate the network control plane from the forwarding plane to enable more automated provisioning and policy-based management of network resources.

SDN's origins can be traced to a research collaboration between Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley that ultimately yielded the OpenFlow protocol in the 2008 timeframe.

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OpenFlow is only one of the first SDN canons, but it's a key component because it started the networking software revolution. OpenFlow defined a programmable network protocol that could help manage and direct traffic among routers and switches no matter which vendor made the underlying router or switch.

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