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
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
Tags: abstraction, ASIC, cpu, High Performance Hardware, network function virtualization, Networking Performance, SDN, software defined network, VNF
[Note: This is the third a four-part series on the OpFlex protocol in Cisco ACI, how it enables an application-centric policy model, and why other SDN protocols do not. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4]
The Cisco ACI fabric is designed as an application-centric intelligent network. The Cisco APIC policy model is defined from the top down as a policy enforcement engine focused on the application itself and abstracting the networking functions underneath. The policy model unites with the advanced hardware capabilities of the Cisco ACI fabric underlying the business-application-focused control system.
The Cisco APIC policy object-oriented model is built on the distributed policy enforcement concepts for intelligent devices enabled by OpFlex and characterized by modern development and operations (DevOps) applications such as Puppet and Chef.
At the top level, the Cisco APIC policy model is built on a series of one or more tenants, which allows the network infrastructure administration and data flows to be segregated. Tenants can be customers, business units, or groups, depending on organization needs. Below tenants, the model provides a series of objects that define the application itself. These objects are endpoints and endpoint groups (EPGs) and the policies that define their relationships (see figure below). The relationship between two endpoints, which might be two virtual machines connected in a three-tier web application, can be implemented by routing traffic between the endpoints to firewalls and ADCs that enforce the appropriate security and quality of service (QoS) policies for the application and those endpoints.
Endpoints and Application Workloads Along with Tenants and Application Network Profiles Are the Foundation of the Cisco ACI Policy ModelEndpoints and Application Workloads Along with Tenants and Application Network Profiles Are the Foundation of the Cisco ACI Policy Model
For a more thorough description of the Cisco ACI application policy model, please refer to this whitepaper, or this one more specifically on Endpoint Groups.
For this discussion, the important feature to notice is the way that Cisco ACI policies are applied to application endpoints (physical and virtual workloads) and to EPGs. Configuration of individual network devices is ancillary to the requirements of the application and workloads. Individual devices do not require programmatic control as in prior SDN models, but are orchestrated according to the centrally defined and managed policies and according to application policies.
This model is catching hold in the industry and in the open source community. The OpenStack organization has begun work on including group-based policies to extend the OpenStack Neutron API for network orchestration with a declarative policy-based model based closely on EPG policies from Cisco ACI. (Note: “Declarative” refers to the orchestration model in which control is distributed to intelligent devices based on centralized policies, in contrast to retaining per-flow management control within the controller itself.)
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Tags: Chef, Cisco ACI, Cisco APIC, devops, Group Policy, Open Daylight, OpenStack, Puppet, SDN
[Note: This is the second of a four-part series on the OpFlex protocol in Cisco ACI, how it enables an application-centric policy model, and why other SDN protocols do not. Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4]
Following on from the first part of our series, this blog post takes a closer look at some of these architectural components of Cisco ACI and the VMware NSX software overlay solution to quantify the advantages of Cisco’s application-centric policies and demonstrate how the architecture supports greater scale and more robust IT automation.
As called for in the requirements listed in the previous section, Cisco ACI is an open architecture that includes the policy controller and policy repository (Cisco APIC), infrastructure nodes (network devices, virtual switches, network services, etc.) under Cisco APIC control, and a protocol communication between Cisco APIC and the infrastructure. For Cisco ACI, that protocol is OpFlex.
OpFlex was designed with the Cisco ACI policy model and cloud automation objectives in mind, including important features that other SDN protocols could not deliver. OpFlex supports the Cisco ACI approach of separating the application policy from the network and infrastructure, but not the control plane itself. This approach provides the desired centralization of policy management, allowing automation of the entire infrastructure without limiting scalability through a centralized control point or creating a single point of catastrophic failure. Through Cisco ACI and OpFlex, the control engines are distributed, essentially staying with the infrastructure nodes that enforce the policies.
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Tags: APIC, Application Centric, Application policy, Cisco ACI, OpenFlow, OpFlex, ovsdb, SDN
By Gina Nienaber, Marketing Manager, SP Product and Solutions Marketing
Cisco is a sponsor of a new show this year, the Metro Ethernet Forum Global Ethernet Network 2014 show or “MEF GEN 14” to be held on November 17-20th, at the Gaylord National in Washington, DC. The event promises to bring together leading industry experts to define the future of global networking. Distinguished Cisco specialists will be available to discuss business transformation through industry leading innovations such as Software Defined Network (SDN), Network Function Virtualization (NFV), Service Orchestration and Carrier Ethernet 2.0.
On Monday, 17 November, at 1:00 PM, Cisco will host a “MUST ATTEND” pre-conference workshop for our customers where we will share new innovations that will change how service providers plan, deploy, and operate programmable Carrier Ethernet networks. Read More »
Tags: Carrier Ethernet 2.0, Cisco at MEF GEN14, epn, esp, evolved programmable network, evolved services platform, GEN14, MEF GEN14, metro ethernet forum, NFV, orchestration, SDN, segment routing, virtualization
Project Illustrates How Software Defined Network (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) Work in Concert to Enhance How Networks are Designed, Operated, and Monetized
Last week, I blogged about some joint research with Cox Communications related to our Evolved Services Platform (ESP) and NFV efforts. Another collaborative took place at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) at their Cable-Tec Expo 14 event in Denver.
Loukas Paraschis, a Technology Solutions Architect at Cisco, co-wrote a paper (entitled SDN and NFV in Business Services) with Mazen Khaddam, Principal Lead Network Architect at Cox Atlanta.
The paper provides a comprehensive summary of Cisco’s SDN, NFV, and open source vision with the Cisco Evolved Services Platform (ESP). It specifically validates the service provider’s need for solutions that provide desired business outcomes for applications running across multiple domains (such as WAN and data center), and provides detailed use cases for the WAN Automation Engine (WAE).
The paper Read More »
Tags: cable-tec, cox communications, monetization, network functions virtualization, NFV, optimization, scte, SDN, softweare defined network, wae, WAN Automation Engine