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Optimize Your Software-Defined Network by Hardware Requirements

Software-based techniques are transforming networking. Commercial off-the-shelf hardware is finding a place in several networking use cases. However, high-performance hardware is also an important part of a successful software-defined networking (SDN). As you optimize your networks using SDN tools and complementary technologies such as network function virtualization (NFV), an important step is to strategically assess your hardware needs based on the functions and performance requirements. These need to be aligned with your intended business outcome for individual applications and services.

Two Categories of High Performance Hardware

  • Network hardware that utilizes purpose-built designs. These often involve specialized Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC)s to achieve significantly higher performance than what is possible or economically feasible using commercial off-the-shelf servers that are based on state of the art, x86-based, general purpose processors.
  • Network hardware that uses standard x86 servers that is enhanced to provide high performance and predictable operation for example, via special software techniques that bypass hypervisors, virtualization environments, and operating systems.

Where to Deploy Network Functions
Can virtualized network functions be deployed like cloud-based applications? No. There is a big difference between deploying network functions as software modules on x86 general purpose servers and using a common cloud computing model to implement network virtualization. Simply migrating existing network functions to general purpose servers without due regard to all the network requirements leads to dramatically uneven and unpredictable performance. This unpredictability is mainly due to data plane workloads being often I/O bound and/or memory bound and software layers containing important configuration details that may impact performance.
These issues are not specifically about hardware but how the software handles the whole environment. Operating systems, hypervisors, and other infrastructure that is not integrated into best practices for data plane applications will continue to contribute to unpredictable performance.

Bandwidth and CPU Needs

Optimization 10.20

A good way to begin to assess hardware requirements is to examine network functions in two dimensions: I/O bandwidth or throughput needs, and computational power needs. In considering which network function to virtualize and where to virtualize it, CPU load required and bandwidth load required throughout different layers of the network can help determine that some but not all network functions are suitable for virtualization.

Applications with lower I/O bandwidth and low-to-high CPU requirements may be most appropriate for virtualized deployment on optimized x86 servers. Applications with higher I/O bandwidth and low-to-high CPU requirements may be best deployed on specialized high-performance hardware with specialized silicon. Many other factors may play a role in determining what hardware to use for which applications, including cost, user experience, latency, networking performance, network predictability, and architectural preferences.
Service-Network Abstraction is Key
Additionally, you might not need high performance hardware for certain functions initially. But as such a particular function scales, it might require a high performance platform to meet its performance specifications, or it might be more economical on a purpose-built platform. So you might start out with commercial off-the-shelf hardware and then transfer the workload to the high performance hardware later. If you have focused on establishing a clean abstraction of the services from the underlying hardware infrastructure using SDN principles, the network deployment can be more easily changed or evolved independently of the upper services and applications. This is the true promise of SDN.
Read more about how to assess hardware performance requirements in your SDN in the Cisco® white paper “High-Performance Hardware: Enhance Its Use in Software-Defined Networking.” You can find it here: “Do You Know your Hardware Needs?” along with other useful information.

Do you have questions or comments? Tweet us at @CiscoSP360

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CCAP+Remote PHY and the Path Towards FTTH, Unified Access and Virtualization

jchapmanBy John Chapman, Cisco Fellow, CTO, Cable Access BU

This week, we and 10,000 or so hard-core engineering colleagues within the cable industry descend upon the city once known as the cable capital of the world — Denver, Colorado — and, like it’s been since the earliest days of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers’ annual Cable-Tec Expo, a trending topic, now and forever, is bandwidth.

The reasons why are obvious, but indulge me a brief recap: Consumer usage of broadband grows at an compound annual rate of 50% or more, ever since about 2009, when Netflix began streaming video, in addition to mailing DVDs. Add to that the sheer number of video-capable, IP-connected screens we all use, and the fact that video itself is only scheduled to get bigger (we’re looking at you 4K), and it’s easy to envision why it’s a considerable challenge to keep the cable infrastructure updated, and capable of ever-increasing carrying capacities.

Here in Denver, we are focused on this challenge. Big picture, we are “transforming” cable access from a DOCSIS focus, to integrate DOCSIS with service provider  WiFi, PON & FTTx, and MetroE into a single, easily- managed portfolio, which only Cisco can deliver. Doubleclicking on the DOCSIS pillar alone, we are taking the CMTS architecture and redefining it to deliver far more bandwidth, for far less cost. We see two technologies that stand out: Read More »

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Operators Accelerating Pace with NFV and SDN

Save Money Here and Now

When was the last time you won the lottery?  If you are like me, it’s a pretty rare occasion indeed.  The same probability can be applied to increasing the budget allocation for any business and especially for service providers.  What can service providers do to save money now, enabling them to invest in new services and boost revenues?   Network functions virtualization (NFV) comes to the rescue, with help of course, from software defined networking (SDN), and open source innovations.

SDN and NFV represent a significant change in networking as we currently know it. Together and separately, both target cost savings, operational complexity, and network optimization – and both hold much promise for the operator. As with all things offering great potential rewards, one must balance these benefits and address the associated risks accordingly when deploying them.

For service providers, the data center is leading target for SDN and NFV deployments. Given all the activity focused on cloud computing, content delivery, and anything-as-a-service (XaaS) offerings, the service provider data centers must advance across many fronts (security, automation, mobility, reliability analytics, and provisioning) to be successful.

Interestingly, all operators Read More »

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Enabling Open, Agile, Application Centric Networks With Cisco Evolved Services Platform

Service provider customers expect more.   The pace of change around us is not just constant but continuing to accelerate.   To stay competitive with the nimble new players in the market, service providers need to change how they engage all of their end customers.   Not exactly an easy challenge to overcome, but rapid and successful business transformation will put operators right in the middle of a world of new opportunities to capture customer mindshare.  Exciting times are ahead!

So, what will it take for service providers to save money on their current service offerings, enabling them to invest and expand their businesses?   Positive outcomes are made possible by an open, agile, and application centric approach, combining emerging Software-Defined Network (SDN), Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), and Open API technologies …  not just to the network… but to all of their business processes.

Faster creation of personalized services that are easy to consume is enabled by the Cisco Evolved Services Platform (ESP), automating and provisioning new services in real-time at web speed.   End customers can Read More »

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Cisco and the Evolution of the Service Provider Network

On February 18, Cisco announced the evolution of service provider (SP) networks. It is probably a good idea to step back, just a little, and explain how Cisco sees the challenges ahead and how we intend to continue to provide our mobile service provider customers with the strongest portfolio of solutions in the industry. That’s the reason I am writing this blog post. In it, I hope to share with you some of our learnings from the past year and also, explain a little bit about the rationale for our announcement.

We are virtualizing our entire SP portfolio. The year 2013 is one where the concept of “Network Function Virtualization” (NfV) caught the industry by storm. In NfV, virtualized network functions are software appliances executing on virtual machines delivered in a telco cloud environment. In a nutshell, NfV is attractive to our customers because it allows them to clearly delineate the respective values of software, hardware and professional services for total solution integration. Practices based on data center techniques promise to reduce the cost of operating the network and simplify work processes through the agility we are seeing today in the cloud environment. And none of this evolution will compromise the ability of service providers to deploy multi-vendor solutions though it is fair to state, procurement practices will need to re-align to this brave new world. For example, rather than procure integrated network functions to be assembled into a network, service providers may have to separate out  layers Read More »

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