Posts Tagged ‘“Bigswitch”’

OpenFlow, SDN and Big data

November 23, 2012 3 comments

OpenFlow promised a way out of the tyranny in a world dominated by proprietary networking vendors like Cisco, Juniper, Alcatel and others.  It offered the promise of traffic engineering using low-cost hardware and a way to design your network in a deterministic fashion rather than have to over-provision everything for the worst case scenario.  In jargon-speak OpenFlow  allows “separation of the control plane from the data plane.”

What this means to you and me is that we can now take functions like access control lists (ACL) that were handled by the routers/switches and move that intelligence into Java software running in a virtual machine.  To do all these wonderful things all you need is:

  • OpenFlow controller
  • OpenFlow enabled switch

Vendors who make OpenFlow compliant switches include Brocade, HP, Juniper, Dell, Extreme Networks, Arista and IBM.  Carriers who deploy OpenFlow in their networks today include Verizon.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is the latest buzzword which sends shivers down the spines of the big router/switch vendors who made billions of dollars selling proprietary firmware based routers and switches.  The stifling world they thrust upon us of access routers, aggregation routers, layer 3 routers and WAN routers, millions of lines of code for each router, roadmaps that stretch into the next 10 years –  may all become a thing of the past thanks to the unrelenting march of technologies like SDN.

How do you visualize SDN?  Think of this new architecture as being modular and neatly layered like an IKEA shelf, with the data-plane layer at the bottom, control plane above it and the application plane on top:

  • The data-plane layer switches can be of two types: OpenFlow Hypervisor switches and OpenFlow physical switches.
  • The control plane could feature commercially available controllers like Big Switch “Big network controller”.
  • The application plane is where you would have SDN applications, cloud orchestration and other business applications.

Players in the emerging SDN space include vendors like Nicira and Big Switch Networks.

  • Nicira who made available via open source their vSwitch Open vSwitch
  • Big Switch Networks who made available via open source their OpenFlow controller “Floodlight” under the Apache 2 license.
  • Midokura who virtualize the network stack of OpenFlow with their MidoNet

So what did the legacy networking and virtualization vendors do?  As the adage goes – If you can’t build it in-house then at least acquire it so you regain some nominal measure of control.   This scenario was acted out recently when:

  • VMware acquired Nicira for $1.2B
  • Brocade acquired Vyatta for an undisclosed amount
  • Cisco acquired Cloupia for $125M and Meraki for $1.2B

That’s enough about the vendors in the space.   If I am a user how do I benefit from SDN?

Benefits of SDN to enterprise customers:

  • The ability to squeeze more VMs into you existing rack servers results in driving down your power and cooling costs.  This  in turn mean more CapEx savings and OpEX savings (due to fewer trouble tickets) especially in an enterprise cloud environment.

Fidelity and Goldman Sachs are rumored to be customers of Big Switch Networks.

Benefits of SDN to cloud service providers:

  • A way to virtualize your network
    • If you are benefiting from virtualizing servers using VMware or Citrix technology why stop there?  Why not go down a level and virtualize the underlying network of proprietary switches and routers and treat them like an un-differentiated pool of resources?
    • A programmatic way to control your infrastructure:
      • If you are a telecom service provider you now have a way to move away from the proprietary architectures of Cisco, Juniper, Alcatel which requires a vendor’s programmer to program your routers.  You can now have your own telecom engineers do the programming blissfully oblivious to the make/model of the underlying router.
      • Better orchestration of cloud services.
        • Rapid provisioning including scale-up and scale-down.

In the service provider market these can quickly become key business differentiators.  Cloud providers like Amazon, Google, Facebook, MSN, Yahoo, Rackspace take advantage of the benefits of SDN today.  Traditional services providers like NTT are also adopters of SDN.

If you are still with me you might wonder: I get all this OpenFlow, SDN business but what pray tell does all this have to do with Hadoop and big data?  For starters, Infoblox has proven that Hadoop performance can be accelerated using OpenFlow enabled Ethernet switches instead of using pricier InfiniBand or other interconnects.    As Stuart Bailey, CTO of Infoblox says “Imagine a single programmer routinely having 10,000 cores and their associated networks to write Big Data applications!  SDN enables new industrial applications like Big Data analysis in the same way the PC brought spreadsheets and word processors into the enterprise.”

If you wish to explore this area further look into papers like these from IBM on how you can program your network at run-time for big data applications.  To learn more about SDN itself look into papers like this one from Dell.  If you happen to be an HP shop you’ll want to catch up on HP’s solutions for SDN.  So you see in the end big data has tangible benefits from this move towards SDN regardless of who makes your underlying network hardware.