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SDN Reflections on the London Gartner Data Center Conference – Part 1

December 6, 2013 at 4:58 am PST

Last week I was in London for the Gartner Data Center Conference.  As always there was a wide range of interesting topics being discussed, all very useful.  Working in Cisco Data Center Services, I am interested in many data center topics, however this year I was interested to hear perspectives on SDN, how the market is evolving, and how the attendees -- including many senior IT practitioners -- are considering SDN adoption.

London's Big Ben at Night

London’s Big Ben at Night

From a Cisco perspective, we were showcasing the recently launched Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), which generated a lot of interest.  There is growing awareness among our customers that ACI could do for networks and applications what the Cisco UCS has done for the server market (with UCS server profiles in the latter proving a good analogy to help customers understand the potential of ACI).

So what were some of my key takeaways from the SDN discussion I heard here?  And what were the questions that in my view are still not being discussed sufficiently across the industry?

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What is a “Controller”? And how many do we need?

June 26, 2013 at 6:10 am PST

Thanks to SDN, the “Controller” word pops up in many network architecture discussions these days. In networking alone, we’re already surrounded by many “controllers” and we’re busy introducing more as we speak:  For example, Session Border Controllers or Wireless LAN Controllers have been around for quite some time, and have recently announced the OpenDaylight Controller, the Cisco XNC, or the Cloupia Unified Infrastructure Controller. So what is a “Controller” in networking terms, and how many do we need in emerging network architectures?

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OpenDaylight: Building an Open Source Community around SDN

It’s great to see Cisco and many companies across the industry make a major change in the use of Open Source via the newly form project hosted by the Linux Foundation called OpenDaylight. This consortium is an industry-wide, open and transparent effort to catalyze innovation and accelerate an application ecosystem for software-defined networking. With all the partners involved we are working to not only further development and adoption of SDN but also to foster a new developer community. A consortium like this has been long overdue and it’s great to finally see it come to fruition.

We are incredibly pleased to partner with Arista, Big Switch Networks, Brocade, Citrix, Dell, Ericsson, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Intel, Juniper Networks, Microsoft, NEC, Nuage Networks, PLUMgrid, RedHat and VMware on the Project. This is the largest effort to date to drive Software-Defined Networking across the industry and into new markets.  While the initial goal is to build a common, industry backed SDN Platform, the broader objective is to give rise to an entire ecosystem of developers that can freely utilize the code, contribute to the project and commercialize the offerings. I further expect the ecosystem to expand into areas like tools and services.

Cisco has donated our core “Cisco ONE” controller code to the project and has officially open sourced the code under the Eclipse Public License. The community has come together around this code to form the architecture (see below) for the Open SDN Framework. Beyond donations of code, Project members are supporting the project via both financial investment and via developers we are committing to work full-time on the project overall. Donations from other members of the Project can be seen here and we expect this list to only grow.

As Open Source increasingly becomes a standard for customers and developers, we look at this as a new way to meet our customer needs and also help developers innovate in new ways without the barriers of vendor lock-in. Open Source is increasingly important for our customers and developers as well and as they evolve, we evolve. Cisco to date has supported Open Source through efforts such as OpenStack and now OpenDaylight and we look at Open Source as a critical pillar in our software strategy moving forward. By allowing developers to freely use these solutions we hope to enable a new developer ecosystem for software-defined networking and more. We are fully committed to enabling developers, both current and new, to deliver innovating applications and services that will help customers across the board realize the value of SDN faster than before.

The OpenDaylight architecture and code offering to date includes a modular southbound plugin architecture for multi-vendor environments. In addition, OpenDaylight offers an extensible northbound framework with both Java & REST APIs to ensure multiple developer skill-sets can build applications to the platform. We are also planning to build a onePK plugin for OpenDaylight to enable multiple users to drive network intelligence into their SDN applications. As you can see from below we will also be supporting key standards with this effort, including OpenFlow.

 

OpenDaylight

 

It’s important to note that you don’t launch a community; you build one. By investing in OpenDaylight we hope that our customers, partners and developers across multiple industries will now have the ability to build applications that frankly make the network easier to use and more automated. As an industry we are moving in a new direction and further up the stack and OpenDaylight offers new opportunities for application creation and monetization beyond the networking layer.

It’s a true rarity when you see both partners and competitors come together for the good of the community, and contribute code for the universal good of the customer. All OpenDaylight participants have committed to open source guidelines that include open communication, ethical and honest behavior, code and roadmap transparency and more. An Open Source project is only as successful as the community of developers and the level of code quality, and OpenDaylight’s Board of Directors (which includes multiple parties cross-industry) will be ensuring that partners, code contributors and project committers all abide by the same guidelines for the success of the project over the success of their own company’s offerings.

For more information, please see www.opendaylight.org. Code will be available for download soon, and we are looking for interested individuals for commitments across the board – from technical offerings to application development, and we welcome contributions from both individuals and other organizations. All ideas are welcome, and we look forward to multiple new innovative solutions coming from this.

Congratulations to all our partners and individuals who helped to make this happen, including the hard work done by the Linux Foundation. It’s truly an amazing accomplishment and we expect to see much more in the near future.

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SDN for Universities: Campus Slicing 101

June 27, 2012 at 4:00 am PST

In the wake of our Open Network Environment (Cisco ONE) announcements, we are continuing our series on software defined networking (SDN) use cases, this time focusing on the primary use case for OpenFlow and universities, campus network slicing. If interested, a more detailed solution brief on this scenario and the Cisco SDN OpenFlow controller can be found here. And check out our demo video below.

Campus Slicing diagramUniversity campus networks offer an increasingly wide array of networking services to one of the broadest user bases of any “enterprise.” Some universities have medical or high-security facilities and must maintain regulatory compliance accordingly. Student networking services vary depending on whether they are on or off campus, and in almost all cases students and faculty bring their own devices. Administration offices must also be able to manage the day-to-day activities of the university. Often event management must include the rapid provisioning of point-of-sale terminal support and back-end payment reconciliation. And faculty must have both data and video access within the university campus, across campuses, and further out to other universities.

As a result, the ability to partition networks (called “slicing”) based on SDN has risen in popularity. Although slicing is being performed today on isolated networks, the need to perform it on production networks is now becoming a priority. Cisco controllers and agents, as part of the Cisco Open Network Environment for network programmability, are aimed at addressing this need.

Much of the early research and collaboration between universities on OpenFlow and SDN has been driven by the adoption of National Science Foundation (NSF) projects such as GENI, an open, collaborative research environment to explore networking at scale.

One of the basic premises of SDN is that the abstraction of control plane management, out of each network device and into a centralized “controller,” can create high business agility through automation with relatively lower OpEx and low risk. SDN is a natural fit for the class of requests universities need to service.

One of the primary components to the emergence of SDN on campuses has been the ability to create logically isolated networks and allow them to be partitioned and programmed using slicing. In SDN, this is facilitated with an abstraction layer in the network device called a flowvisor. Today, many universities use flowvisors within their isolated networks in conjunction with SDN controllers to manage their slicing requirements. In many cases these slicing activities are still performed off the campus backbone, as the software used to implement both the operating systems and slicing functions does not provide the policy management consistency required for production network applications.

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