The grim reaper is on the horizon for proprietary solutions with open networking the scythe that breaks the chains…
As a term, open networking means many different things. It is a movement, an ideal, a confederation of minds spanning the globe with the sole goal the transformation of network infrastructure.
This hasn’t happened by choice but by necessity. Since 2007 wireless network traffic has increased by more than 360,000%. Just let that sink in for a moment while I explain how open networking provides the solutions and technologies to alleviate this quandary while futureproofing the network from the oncoming tide of The Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G.
Collaboration from the beginning
We could go back to 1992 (Linux kernel released under the GNU General Public License) if we wanted to speak purely about open and collaborative work but this particular story starts in 2011 with the formation of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) and the Open Compute Project (OCP).
The former, created by Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon, Yahoo! and Deutsche Telekom, being responsible for managing the OpenFlow protocol and pushing the benefits of Software Defined Networking (SDN). The latter, formed by Facebook, Intel, Rackspace and Goldman Sachs, concentrates its efforts on redesigning hardware to support the growing demands on compute infrastructure. Notable mention should also be made to the Linux Foundation without whom open networking would not be possible.
These organizations provide an umbrella under which some of the world’s largest and most successful companies can work together on projects that are mutually beneficial. This is the very essence of open networking.
Let’s get a little Technical
What would you say if I could offer you a more cost-effective network that was half the price to build and even cheaper to manage? One that was more agile than your present proprietary one? One that was easier to automate, scale, secure, provision and upgrade? Proprietary networks have become antiquated and debilitating to business to the point where it should not even be a conversation any more.
For the cynics and sceptics out there, let me give you a run down on how this was made possible…
The first concept to understand when talking about open networking and SDN is the separation of the data plane from the control plane. The data plane decides what happens to a packet. Whether that is encapsulation or decapsulation or just where it is forwarded to (sometimes referred to as the forwarding plane). The control plane is the management interface through which the network is configured. The coupling of these planes in one proprietary device has led to a stagnation in networks and discouraged progress.
SDN separates both of these planes from each other. Using whitebox or bare metal switches from ODMs/OEMs like Edgecore and Quanta, the data plane is free to concentrate on forwarding traffic. This in turn frees up the control plane to act separately as a centrally managing device that has a full view of the network. Network operating systems from Cumulus Linux, Big Switch Networks, Pluribus, Pica8, IP Infusion and more complete the open network ecosystem and allow companies to choose the best OS for their particular use case.
The network can now be centrally managed by a software-based controller which will allow for greater security control and traffic management
Configurations are automated
Autonomous switching plane reduces impact of failures on network
Optimized switching ASICs are orders of magnitude faster, as it has one job
Reduced Capex and Opex using whitebox switches and open OSs
Software can now evolve separately from hardware
The last point is of prodigious benefit. The time it takes to build hardware, from the conception of an idea to testing can be anywhere from 18 months to 2 years. Software can be written in days and implemented just as quickly thus allowing networks the agility to change as the business need demands it.
The second innovation we will delve into is OpenFlow. OpenFlow is a standard, secure protocol that allows for communication between the separated planes. Traditional switching is done at layer2 using MAC addresses. Each switch will build up a MAC address table where it learns the location of the other devices on the network. OpenFlow uses a different technique.
Switching with OpenFlow is done using what are called flows rather than MAC addresses. Each flow entry has rules and actions associated with it. If the rule has been satisfied, then the action is taken. The actions are created by the control plane (controller) which has a full network view and then deployed to the switch.
Results in lower operating costs as fewer errors and less network downtime as configurations are automated.
It is a standard way of conveying data to devices which cultivates open, multi-vendor markets.
This in turn drives down prices on both hardware and software.
OpenFlow-based SDN can create a network fit-for-purpose and aligned to specific business objectives.
Ease of integration with compute for resource management and maintenance.
OpenFlow is not the only approach in town for SDN. Cumulus Linux for example runs a Debian Linux distro directly on switches and relies on traditional IP networking concepts to achieve its aims. OpenFlow does have a diversity to it that allows it to be used in environments as varied as hyperscale data centers, enterprise data centers, public and private cloud service providers, telecom networks, circuit-switched networks, and optical networks. It is also being used for services ranging from network virtualization, security, and access control to load balancing, traffic engineering, and energy management.
State of play with Open Networking
One of the key concepts of Open Networking and SDN is that it is based upon open standards and it is vendor neutral. Some of the old guard in networking seem to have missed this point. VENDOR NEUTRAL means a standardized, non-proprietary approach along with unbiased business practices. If there is no interchangeability or compatibility between the products and technologies, then it is not true SDN. I repeat this is not SDN!
Open Networking has taken hold of the industry from top to bottom. The shared experiences of the early adopters from 5 or 6 years back have made the transition a far more palatable experience now. The gains of higher levels of abstraction far outweigh the increased level of complexity as networks grow to colossal sizes.
Don’t hesitate to give me a shout if you have any questions related to Open Networking, SDN or networks in general. Next in the Open Networking Series we will be taking a deeper dive into the world of SDN and more.
Slán go fóill,
- IoT – Internet of Things
- 5G – 5th generation of cellular mobile communication
- Linux – Family of free open-source operating systems
- ONF – Open Networking Foundation
- OCP – Open Compute Project
- SDN – Software Defined Networking
- Edgecore – White box ODM
- Quanta – White box OEM
- Data Plane – Deals with packet forwarding
- Control Plane – Management interface for network configuration
- ODM – Original design manufacturer
- OEM – Original equipment manufacturer
- Cumulus Linux – Open network operating system
- Pluribus – Network monitoring and SDN fabric solution
- Pica8 – Open standards-based operating system
- Big Switch Networks – Cloud and data centre networking company
- IP Infusion – Whitebox network operating systemOS – Operating system
- White Box – Bare metal device that runs off merchant silicon
- ASIC – Application-specific integrated circuit
- CAPEX – Capital expenditure
- OPEX – Operating expenditure
- MAC - Media Access Control
- Virtualization – To create a virtual version of something including hardware
- Load Balancing – Efficient distribution of incoming network traffic to backend servers
- Vendor Neutral - Standardized, non-proprietary approach along with unbiased business practices