Programmability, application aware environments, and software defined networks are popular topics in the industry right now. Network operators see the revenue opportunities to deliver services which can dynamically utilize network infrastructure while meeting application specific requirements. This thought process dominated at this year’s Carrier Ethernet World Congress in Barcelona, and Cisco was helping lead the way.
It was a pleasure to watch some of our thought leaders share their unique and innovative ideas and direction with the larger service provider, vendor and analyst community – starting with Software Defined Networking (SDN). SDN wasn’t the only topic, we shared ideas around mobile trends such as 4G/LTE and small cells and the resulting network impact, the increasing need to marry the IP layer with the underlying transport layers, and strategies around moving legacy TDM services onto a packet infrastructure. I love watching the cross-industry creativity flow as we collectively solve today’s challenges posed by the growth of new user trends.
At Cisco live last month I spent several days talking to a lot of customers about all the new enhancements to our Nexus 1000V portfolio, especially the programmable virtual network overlays that are part of the Cisco ONE framework for SDN/network programmability. While the Nexus 1000V-based virtual networks are really gaining traction (6,000+ Nexus 1000V virtual switch customers to date), I still found a lot of folks weren’t all that familiar with the concept of VXLAN, and why they are so important to building scalable cloud networks and multi-tenant data centers.
Well, not to fear, VXLAN MAN is here! Well, not really, but we have just released a great new fundamentals video on VXLAN from the creative geniuses at Techwise TV (Thanks to @JimmyRay_Purser and @robbboyd!). We’ve gotten great reviews on this so far, and I know the guys really had a fun time in creating this one.
ESG points out that virtual network overlays are important to building out multi-tenant environments like private and hybrid clouds, as well as overcoming scalability issues in those environments that have traditionally been based on VLANs. As ESG notes, and as Cisco mentioned in it’s ONE announcement, programmability of the virtual networks is what really separates them from classic overlays based on MPLS or GRE tunnels. The Nexus 1000V will achieve this programmability capability by SDN API’s such as OpenStack on top of the Nexus 1000V virtual supervisor module.
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.
University 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.
After our Open Network Environment (Cisco ONE) announcement at Cisco live!, where we unveiled our strategy for network programmability, Jim Duffy at NetworkWorld had a very interesting article that asks a key question, “What are the killer apps for software defined networks?” While SDN technology is very exciting and holds a great deal of promise, the answer to that question will ultimately determine how quickly it is adopted and by who. The consensus is that network virtualization or virtual network overlays are one of the early killer apps that software defined networks can certainly enable (when coupled with other technologies), which is exactly why Cisco made virtual overlays one of the three solution pillars of its ONE announcement. As I mentioned in my TechwiseTV video on virtual overlays, the primary use case for SDN/OpenFlow research in universities is also campus network slicing or creating virtual network partitions for test and production environments, e.g., to share a physical network. As noted in Duffy’s article, virtual overlays can be done with or without OpenFlow.
In the aftermath of a major launch, after reading the press and analyst coverage of the news, I always ask what we could have made clearer, what could have been highlighted better, or how could we have made the complexity of some of the details easier to understand. One such point that probably could have been clarified is just how “open” the Open Network Environment (what’s in a name anyway?). Specifically, regarding our Nexus 1000V virtual overlay framework, there were some comments and questions about how open and interoperable this overlay framework was, especially compared to other vendors touting programmable overlays. One financial analyst firm even stated that our overlay networks had some great advantages, but only worked with Cisco switches. Read More »