SDN: Enterasys' approach examined

By Martin May, regional director at Enterasys Networks.

Johannesburg, 28 Aug 2013
Read time 5min 00sec
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To address simultaneous needs for security, virtualisation, manageability, mobility and agility in today's networks, the concept of software defined networking (SDN) was born, says Martin May, regional director at Enterasys Networks.

An important benefit associated with SDN technology is its ability to allow network administrators to manage network services more easily through the abstraction of lower level functionality into virtual services. This replaces having to manually configure hardware.

The idea of SDN goes back to early 1990s, when Cabletron (now Enterasys Networks) prototyped the Secure VNS (Virtual Network Service) leading to the SecureFast solution.

The advantages of SDN in the enterprise lie specifically in the technology's ability to provide network virtualisation and automated hardware configuration across the entire network fabric, so new services and end systems can be deployed rapidly and operational costs can be minimised.

SDN also allows network administrators to have programmable central control of network traffic without requiring physical access to the network's hardware devices.

Importantly, SDN decouples the system that makes decisions about where traffic is sent (the control plane) from the underlying system that forwards traffic to the selected destination (the data plane). In other words, a network switch can forward packets and a separate server can run the network control plane.

The rationale behind this approach is twofold: First, the decoupling allows for the control plane to be implemented using a different distribution model than the data plane. Second, it allows the control plane development and runtime environment to be on a different platform than the traditionally low-powered management CPUs found on hardware switches and routers.

So much for the technical details. But how do they translate into true value for the user?

There is a perception in the marketplace that SDN technology is limited to data centres. This is incorrect. SDN has the potential to bring significant value to the enterprise - including the data centre and on down to the mobile and wireless edge.

This all-encompassing perspective is a feature of Enterasys Networks' approach to SDN. It is central to the design of the Enterasys OneFabric architecture and the implementation of its OneFabric Control Centre.

OneFabric is aimed at enhancing network scalability and control for complex IT environments. Significantly, it enables organisations to rapidly scale their networks in tandem with their business growth - without sacrificing performance or low latency benefits.

OneFabric's embedded automation features improve application delivery for dynamic environments leveraging cloud technologies, virtualisation, server/storage consolidation and the consumerisation of IT (the trend which sees personal technology embodied in smartphones and tablets making its way into the enterprise).

Taking the concept a step further, a unified management experience is provided by Enterasys' OneFabric Control Centre. It bridges the divide between virtual machine and network provisioning applications and delivers visibility, control and automation over the entire network infrastructure. This includes servers, storage systems and applications, across both physical and virtual environments.

The OneFabric Control Centre also supports and protects corporate investments in the myriad third-party network devices already powering existing networks.

For example, using SDN platforms, Enterasys is currently providing a catalyst for innovation in WiFi environments where collaboration and orchestration with other applications are necessary for the agile delivery of new services.

Enterasys' IdentiFi Adapt architecture takes unified wireless and wired management to the next level by centralising control and distributed intelligence throughout the entire network. It also provides integration through the OneFabric solution, allowing SDN benefits to be associated with any IT application.

Enterasys' experience with SDN has shown that, perhaps contrary to the prevailing sentiment, operational cost savings (opex) are considerably more significant than initial capital equipment cost (capex) savings.

Capex savings can be achieved by the use of less expensive switching equipment, but network scaling shows these savings to be minimal in the broader context.

The underlying requirements of the data plane in SDN are scaling at a rapid rate in terms of flows, much higher than most of today's commodity ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) can handle. Only custom flow-based ASICs such as Enterasys' own CoreFlow2 can address these requirements.

In this light, Enterasys sees the main benefits of SDNs to be clearly linked to business benefits - and opex savings - associated with improved network efficiency (through centralised management) and better service control across the whole network fabric for any device, user and application.

A spin-off benefit is the provision of advanced analytics of all resources, enabling users to easily monitor and control key resources and thus make more informed strategic business decisions.

Finally, Enterasys is providing solutions today which serve as examples of new service provisioning in an SDN context. These include DCM - Data Centre Manager - designed to orchestrate physical and virtual networks in an automated fashion.

Then there's Fusion SDN Connect, an integration service allowing systems to automatically provision services and policies, as well as real-time tracking of connected devices and users via an interconnect with management and security systems.

MDM Connect goes beyond SDN Connect to integrate with Enterasys' Mobile Device Management systems for automated service provisioning for managed mobile devices and bring your own device initiatives.

The Enterasys philosophy addresses practical needs to create a dynamic and agile SDN-based network infrastructure. Increased network reliability, simplicity and security are the long-term advantages, resulting in a consistent user experience coupled with compelling OPEX savings over time.

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