December 10, 2013

Perspectives on SDN

There are many different perspectives today in what constitutes Software Defined Networking, SDN.  The Open Networking Foundation defines SDN (see link: https://www.opennetworking.org/sdn-resources/sdn-definition) as the physical separation of the control and data plane, enabling direct programmability of the network elements.

New Overlay technologies like VXLAN and NVGRE driven by the virtualization hypervisor vendors (VMware and Microsoft respectively) enable network virtualization and L4-7 service level chaining over a physical infrastructure for increased automation and agility in the network environment.

A third focus is on Open API’s, having API technology embedded into the network nodes to allow a centralized management or application environment tap directly into the infrastructure. Interestingly, we’ve seen elements of this already with the OpenStack (see link: http://www.openstack.org/ ) Cloud Orchestration industry-sourced platform. At Extreme, we’ve implemented the OpenStack technology into our platforms to enable management and orchestration service provisioning for the Data Center and Cloud Service Provider markets.  Our team has created a plugin that allows the OpenStack platform to access the network abstraction layer using open API’s (SOAP and XML).  The XML APIs use the SOAP protocol over telnet/SSH or HTTP/HTTPS to exchange XML configuration messages between the client machine and the ExtremeXOS switch modules, embedded in those XML configuration messages is the command to configure the OpenStack provisioning requirements.

This inclusive approach to SDN allows a complementary mix of industry and customer perspectives, enabling multiple different SDN technologies.  From OpenFlow to Open APIs to Overlays, the Extreme Networks SDN framework enables an inclusive approach to SDN that leverages the various network abstraction capabilities of the infrastructure.

However, in today’s climate, the real value is aligning the business application with the network abstraction and programmability capabilities of your SDN. With that, Extreme Networks OneFabric Connect SDN allows 3rd party applications direct access into the SDN ecosystem via the OneFabric Connect API’s, allowing these 3rd party apps to directly provision and orchestrate the network infrastructure.

Taking this a step further, not only do we want our SDN to provision and orchestrate based on static policies, we also want application level visibility to enable dynamic policies based on the current application state or resource utilization.  For example, Big Data applications tends to be bursty, have a low tolerance for latency, and have varied traffic patterns. These network characteristics tend to increase the complexity and cost of provisioning Big Data networks.  An application aware network provides feedback to the SDN management system, aka the Extreme Networks OneFabric Connect SDN system, to provide increased automation for the orchestration and provisioning of the Big Data network.

At the Gartner Data Center Conference, Markus Nispell will discuss this intersection of Big Data and SDN as part of his talk on “Big Data and Cloud Computing; Data Center Networks need to be Application Aware”.

Abstract: Optimal end user experience requires the network to provide services that are tailored to the application. Application awareness is needed at both the data plane and control/management plane of the network along with the proper level of abstraction. If done right, agility, automation, orchestration and better application delivery – the most important benefits of SDN architecture – will result. Custom, flow based ASICs are a key component for truly application aware architecture at all layers.

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