In recent weeks, there has been a lot of buzz about software defined networking – a new approach to networking that separates the routing and control functions.
Everyone from Microsoft to Verizon is getting in on the act. But perhaps no one is taking SDN quite as seriously as the people at Internet 2, the nationwide research and education network.
Rob Vietzke, vice president of network services for Internet 2, said the organization expects to have SDN implemented in a portion of its 100 Gbps nationwide network soon – potentially making it the first really important deployment of the technology. Vietzke ultimately expects the entire Internet 2 backbone to be based on SDN.
SDN, he said, is “about rethinking the role of the network within the computing ecosystem.”
He noted that application programmers have, for years, written programs to control visualization and storage and have built up years of abstraction about how to control those resources. In contrast, the network is a “black box” and application programmers have to work around it.
SDN allows programmers to calculate the network’s impact differently. “You can make choices about how to run” a program, he said. If appropriate, developers can push more functionality into the network cloud or if not appropriate, they can keep the functionality closer to home.
It’s easy to see how this approach is well suited to supporting the large data flows found in the research and academic environment. Researchers have long worked to discern the most efficient way to exchange large sets of physical data with one another, Vietzke noted.
SDN will let researchers ask the network what capabilities it has and respond appropriately. He also noted that some applications may work better without TCP/IP.
Internet 2 is in the process of upgrading its core routers to support 100 Gbps connectivity and as part of that process the organization has asked equipment vendors to also support SDN on that platform. As the organization deploys these devices, Vietzke said, “we will use their regular routing and switching protocols for basic traffic while we begin to build an SDN environment – over time we will migrate to a more pure SDN environment.”
As Internet 2 begins this transition, Vietzke hopes the SDN capability will serve as a launching pad for new innovation on the part of Internet 2 member organizations as well as for private sector networking companies. “If they want to work with us, we’d love to work with them,” he said. “We want to create a platform for multi-domain high-bandwidth applications to develop.”
Implementing SDN on this scale undoubtedly will have some challenges. “There’s a lot of work to be done in virtualization to protect the hardware and CPU,” Vietzke explained. “The biggest challenge is to get virtualization working on a scale that will work for our community.”
Over the last five years, Vietzke has seen a move back toward the concept of massive virtualization that was common in the mainframe era. “We need to do that in the network, too,” he said. “You need to have a common network hardware infrastructure with hundreds of SDNs on top of it. When you think of virtual machines in the cloud, they could connect with virtual networks.”
Internet 2 already has a 10 Gbps version of SDN in place now and hopes to have at least 20 nodes operating at 100 Gbps by the end of the summer. The company wants 35 nodes by the end of the year.
Noting that many Internet innovations began in the research and academic community and later were commercialized, Vietzke said he expects to see SDN eventually migrate to commercial networks.
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