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Checking in on the state of Software-Defined Networking

HP Virtual Application Networks: Delivering Software-Defined Networking - Part 1





Like me, are you finding it challenging to absorb everything about cloud that is thrown at you? There isn’t a trade magazine that goes without having an article on cloud. Delivering services from the cloud—albeit a public cloud, private cloud or a hybrid cloud—is on the top of mind of most IT executives. So is the topic of supporting mobile devices. With over 686M smart phones and 119M tablets will be sold in 2012 alone. Employees, customers and partners agree it’s time for BYOD, which is bringing your own device.


All these applications and new ways of delivering services require a highly adaptable and intelligent network. Software-Defined Networking (SDN) is being proposed as the solution and is gaining significant mindshare from IT managers across the industry.


To that end, HP Virtual Application Networks, our software-defined network based on HP FlexNetwork architecture, delivers a complete solution that enables businesses to create an agile and secure network that streamlines operations. To enable network flexibility and multivendor networks, HP integrates new open standards for Software Defined Network technologies—including OpenFlow.


What is the true benefit of SDN?


SDN is transforming networking the same way the PC industry was transformed with standardized hardware allowing software innovation. SDN abstracts the underlying infrastructure from the applications by separating control and data planes allowing applications to dynamically control change and influence the flow.


 SDN diagram3.jpg


Networking evolution leading to SDNs


Traditionally, switches and routers have been black box with custom ASICs to gain the most effective, efficient way of forwarding data packets. Over time, the model moved to merchant silicon due to high cost of designing custom ASICs. All this while, how the data packets flow through the network and the control that makes the decision on where to forward the packets, how to manage the flow, applying policies to the data being transports was integral part of this network fabric.


Then came OpenFlow (OF), a protocol to communicate with a networking device. This opened up the concept of controlling the network devices and impacting the flow. However it is often a point of confusion that OF is seen as SDN itself and not an enabler.


There is also another misnomer that, with the adoption of SDN, the underlying hardware becomes a commodity. I believe it is to the contrary. SDN becomes how vendors think and build the networks. It spurs innovation in both networking hardware and software.


Early adopters


If you think about it, SDN makes most sense in environment where changes are rapid and require dynamic network reconfiguration and scale. It allows IT organizations to reduce complexity by abstracting the underlying infrastructure as they deploy new applications. The software and infrastructure cloud service providers are the early adopters of this technology as their business model is build around highly scalable and agile infrastructure to accommodate dynamic application deployment. Without this ability to modify, change, control the flow of traffic through the network as they deploy thousands of virtual machines and number of applications of sizeable magnitude the operating model falls apart. I recommend reading article by Joe Onisick from Network Computing.


Enterprises are right behind the cloud service providers in realizing the benefits of SDN. The motivation enterprises to adopt SDN are slightly different as they do have to deal with the same dynamic environment or scale of a service provider. Difficulty of managing complex network features such as QoS and the increasing demand of application on those features are driving enterprises to consider SDN. Read article by Amy DeCarlo from Current Analysis on applications in the enterprises that will drive SDN adoption. The enterprises are considering from operational efficiency point of view – ensuring high availability of services while reducing the complexity of managing networks.


3 approaches to SDN


Three different approaches have surfaced to implementing SDN: 


1. SDN in virtual server environments – This is predominantly applicable in virtual switching environment to effect and control the flow of data within a data center at the server virtualization layer. The benefits of this approach is curtailed to virtualized datacenter edge and does not scale to the physical network switching/routing  within the data center, campus or the branch networks.


2. SDN through manipulation of static configuration – This is a simplistic and rudimentary approach sometimes labeled as SDN. In this approach applications are given access to static configuration of the underlying networking through APIs to manipulate configurations. The drawback is it does not provide dynamic access to flow or control plane but instead it gives the ability to control the device by changing static configuration (management plane).


3. SDN through manipulation of dynamic state of the network – In this approach the traditional network fabric is split into two planes data plane and control plane. The control plane can reside thing the networking device or outside and applications are given access to this control plane to manipulate the flow dynamically. This can be done through multiples ways through external controller or APIs or applications having direct access to impact the flow.


SDN is becoming how you think and build networks


I believe separating the control and data plane plus giving access to the control plane to realize the benefits of SDN is the right way to address your need for an agile network. Virtual Application Networks is how we at HP are approaching SDN. We have a series of upcoming blogs where we’ll discuss HP’s approach to SDN. Stay tuned. And please join the conversation with your thoughts on SDN—something that is sure to be a hot topic at Interop 2012 New York.


>>Your cloud, your way: Join HP Networking at Interop NY 2012


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