With the Hype around SDN- Is it Worth in a Data Center?

With all the hype about SDN, we wonder: Is it worth deploying it in a data center? What goals does SDN meet? Is there a simpler way to achieve those same goals?

We think there is a better way, and it’s called Open Networking. And Open Networking is available today.

Vivek Venkataraman (my colleague and co-author of this blog) and I recently presented “Achieving SDN Goals through Open Networking” at the Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara, CA. The talk was well attended and interactive. We examined the goals of SDN:

  • Controlling costs
  • Achieving agility and flexibility
  • Easily enabling and encouraging innovation
  • Using the network as a platform

You can achieve all of these goals today in a more pragmatic and efficient fashion using Linux and Open Networking.

Controlling Costs

Reducing both CapEx and OpEx is always an important goal for any enterprise. First, Open Networking reduces CapEx by encouraging vendor competition and giving customers choice, all the way from the optics and silicon up to the OS and applications. The modular choice allows data centers to be designed to their exact business requirements, so customers pay for and deploy only the necessary hardware, features and applications that work best for their overall solution. Additionally, it virtually eliminates hardware lock-in because the same operating system and applications can run on different hardware platforms, and vice versa.

Second, Open Networking with Linux reduces OpEx by simplifying configuration, management and troubleshooting. Using the same Linux-based tools that have been used by servers for years unifies the data center and streamlines provisioning and monitoring. Configuration management tools such as Ansible or Puppet and monitoring tools such Ganglia, Sensu, Prometheus or Influxdb can now also be used for the network. Cumulus Linux has gone even further than that, by developing configuration methods that make both manual and automated provisioning easier, such as:

  • Configuring BGP neighbor as an interface with BGP unnumbered interfaces
  • Configuring BGP remote-as as external or internal
  • OSPF unnumbered interfaces

These features simplify and reduce required programming knowledge to get a data center up and running in minutes. Let’s let our network engineers design networks, not configure routers.

Achieving Agility and Flexibility

Data centers need to deploy any application, anywhere, at any time. To do this effectively, you need to eliminate the network as a bottleneck. Open Networking with Linux utilizes features such as Open Networking Install Environment (ONIE) and zero touch provisioning (ZTP) to allow quick turn up and configuration. Similar to servers today, ONIE and ZTP automatically download the OS and configuration of your choice without any human intervention, allowing the network to be up and configured the same time as the servers hosting the applications. Don’t let the network be the bottleneck.

Additionally, feature and scale flexibility also can easily be accomplished with an open Linux environment. The system calls and system level interfaces, as well as the libraries built on top in languages such as Python and Java, expose a richer interface for applications as well as providing easy access to the networking construct.

Linux networking is now more mature and ready for the modern data center than ever before with additions and improvements to the kernel networking stack from Cumulus Networks and others. Advanced networking features like VRF, MPLS and VXLAN are now fully supported by Linux. For additional simplicity, Cumulus Linux also refurbished the venerable ifupdown by creating ifupdown2. You can find more information on scaling a configuration in this video “Simplifying Data Center Operations, Part I.” Cumulus Networks contributed all of these new features back upstream to the community.

Enabling and Encouraging Innovation

The ability to innovate is essential. Since Linux is the ultimate open environment, innovating new applications and networking constructs on Linux is easy. Linux is very well understood by the community, and new applications are being developed every day. As mentioned above, the libraries in languages such as Python and Java allow for the community to be involved in developing all applications. Due to this, the bar to innovate has been lowered. Researchers, VARs and small businesses, for example, can write code that works on a 1.2TB system and have the ability to test those applications in the real world. Linux also is very mature with a vibrant ecosystem and fosters community involvement.

Using the Network as a Platform

Lastly, using the network as a platform accelerates the pace at which new innovations and applications get delivered. It means the entire community can write and add applications to their network that are essential to them, without waiting for a vendor’s roadmap. Modularize the data center to meet the business requirements, and make that new application available right away.

Using Linux as the operating system of choice helps realize many of the end goals that saw the advent of SDN in the first place, right now.

Watch the video – we think you will agree!

This blog has been co-authored by Vivek Venkataraman!

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