Scalability, flexibility and choice are the three mantras commonly associated with data centers. Organizations are more focused on implementing solutions that give them the flexibility of expanding their network easily and cost effectively. Additionally, they are also keen to choose their own equipment from vendors of their choice and avoid vendor lock-in as far as possible.
Nilesh Rane,Associate Vice President, Products and Services says, “Data center networks, traditionally, comprise of large number of switches and routers. These devices direct traffic as per the limited view and capacity of each device. Till now, the hardware was coupled with software to manage traffic flows within the small patch of connectivity that was in the purview of those specific devices.”
The above model for networking within the data center, has been effective to the extent of improving upon the old-fashioned ways of passing data, but lacks the flexibility required to deliver massive amounts of data. Besides, on coupling the hardware and software, the network becomes expensive to maintain and scale, and lacks the capability for users to innovate and administrators to tune applications.
These solutions are usually vendor specific and come with predetermined configuration and routing protocol, tools and feature roadmap. In many cases, most of the in-built features may not have relevance for the markets that the customer operates in, but with vendor lock-in,customers do not have a choice. This situation leaves much to be desired as organizations grapple with the need to leverage data and the desire to optimize their data center to handle their specific requirements for compute, storage and networking.
Leveraging Software Defined Networking (SDN)
Organizations are increasingly turning to SDN servicesfor tackling the above issues.SDN services are usually controlled and monitored from centrally located sources. SDN takes a comprehensive view of the entire network and manages traffic flow dynamically with the help of software applications. SDN also allows for optimization and tuning options that are typically not possible through locally managed switches and routers.
SDN also allows for scalability where an organization can scale up to as many switches or routers as required or are available in the network. Adding on hardware creates new avenues or a pathway for the software to manage and monitor the traffic flows more efficiently.
With centralized SDN solutions, network routing can be customized to the specific requirements and needs of the data center. SDN creates a tailored or customized network experience that increases speed, flexibility, agility and scale in the data center thereby encouraging innovation.
Being vendor neutral, SDN can be adapted to any equipment type. As long as there are common SDN interfaces, who provides the hardware or which operating system is being used to run the applications does not matter. SDN relies on OpenFlow, Puppet, and other protocols to remain agile and flexible, as well as cost-efficient and uses algorithms to create a solution.
Overcoming gaps with SDN
One of the gaps while using SDN is the ability to guarantee service delivery.
While SDN tools can detect congestion, and in some cases can reduce congestion, they cannot prevent data loss. SDN applications can report loss of data only after it happens. To overcome this, the network in itself must be reliable, robust and non-blocking regardless of its management interfaces. Networks with non-blocking switches and routers can leverage SDN benefits completely.
Opportunities with Open Ethernet
SDN is a part of the Open Ethernet architecture that separates hardware and software functions while establishing common software interface between the two functions at the same time. This enables organizations to select a hardware vendor separately from the software vendor. Open Ethernet provides greater flexibility and choice to organizations by providing the tools to alter the software that runs on the hardware and not simply the ability to control it remotely.
This separation of the software from the hardware enables a greater level of flexibility, providing the means to optimize the hardware for a specific deployment. Community-based collaboration, such as the Open Network Install environment (ONIE) and Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI), both driven in the Open Compute Project (OCP) are targeting the easy replacement of the switch and router OS while in-service and upon a change in the data center.
Open Ethernet (and SDN) restores control of the network to the data center owner, enabling the organization to scale its network based on its own considerations, rather than based on existing vendor solutions. It provides more flexibility in configuring network traffic flow, better monitoring and smoother removal of inefficiencies and bottlenecks, and a more cost-effective answer for today’s data centers than traditional networking solutions.