February 01, 2013

Extreme Networks & SDN Improve the User Experience

An SDN Enabled Network

The SDN Network features SDN Applications connected through a Northbound API to the SDN Controller which is connected via Southbound APIs to the SDN enabled switches in the physical network.

Gartner expects accelerated IT spending growth in 2013 and Data Center systems are forecasted to reach $167 million in the year 2016*.  CIOs will spend the majority of their IT budget on servers and storage, fueled by users constantly asking for more and more complex applications.  As the number of applications our workforce demands increases, so does the need for workloads and storage.  This in turn drives the need for increased network bandwidth and performance to support the increased load, without overbuilding the network so severely that it becomes cost-prohibitive.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) integrates applications and networks by allowing the network to understand the needs of each application and adjust accordingly, using standardized protocols. There has been a lot of attention and press surrounding SDN lately given VMWare’s acquisition of Nicira for $1.2 Billion.  Most of the leading networking hardware vendors, including Extreme Networks, have come out with a position on SDN.

SDN is a logical networking enhancement caused by the shift from the traditional model–where the user interacts directly with a dedicated server cluster–to a model where the application workload can shift to any available server.  The most commonly accepted principle is that SDN separates the data and control planes to improve flexibility and scaling.  Accomplishing this requires adding SDN controller functionality to link the two planes.  Ironically, by most definitions of SDN, Nicira is not an SDN controller.  Big Switch Networks, a partner of Extreme Networks, offers the Big Switch Open SDN product suite which enables the ability to dynamically provision new network applications easier than traditional networks.  All of which is based on industry standards and open APIs which allow for deployment flexibility.

With all this focus, this begs me to ask the question, what does SDN mean for the end-user?  Can we expect a better application experience when this approach is deployed?  Answering this requires a high-level understanding of how SDN works.  Until SDN arrived, there had always been a very distinct separation between the network and the application.  They have had very little knowledge of each other.  Most applications expect nothing more than ‘best-effort’ from the network and most network engineers overbuild their networks to compensate for the floods of applications that they are serving their users.  SDN brings with it the promise of network flexibility, being able to provision network services at scale and adjust traffic flows dynamically.  If we are separating the control and data planes, can we provide enough intelligence to the control plane about the applications that are being utilized so that we can tie in the dynamic provisioning of the network to the need of the application?

At Extreme Networks, we believe that most organizations can effectively leverage SDN to improve application performance while containing network costs.  ExtremeXOS Network Operating System coupled with the addition of industry standards such as OpenFlow and OpenStack provides the opportunity to tune the network based on application needs.  Utilizing ExtremeXOS and Extreme’s Ridgeline Network and Service Management software, network operators can identify critical applications and benefit from SDN’s ability to program the network.  Data Holdings is a great example of this, selecting the BlackDiamond X8 Cloud-Scale Switch for their new Data Center facility serving the Midwest.  The Data Holdings data center network is being purpose built to support SDN applications, including OpenFlow/OpenStack and custom software applications.  By tying the application to the network, we improve the user experience while at the same time reduce the CAPEX on network infrastructure and lower the OPEX by reducing power requirements and improving the efficiency of network links.


*Source:  Gartner, Worldwide IT Spending Forecast, 4Q12 Update

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