Broadcom, Freescale make their SDN entrance
Although still early in its development, software-defined networking (SDN) is growing in popularity as demonstrated by Broadcom's and Freescale's introduction of separate interfaces and software for the OpenFlow standard at the Open Networking Summit.
SDN aims to simplify networking. Network tasks are offloaded to C-language programs run on Linux servers, relieving the proprietary ASICs and operating systems accessed by complex sets of vendor-specific interfaces and protocols.
Google was one of the early proponents of SDN for its big datacentre networks. At this week's event, AT&T and NTT will talk about their work in SDN.
The OpenFlow standards for implementing SDN are still in an early stage. Broadcom and Freescale announced chip-specific interfaces to the current OpenFlow version 1.3, hoping it might be the first version to see significant commercial adoption.
"It's early days, and none of these things are well established yet," said Bob Wheeler, senior analyst for Linley Group. "I think there's real progress being made, but when you start from zero with a new protocol and architecture, it takes time."
Chips from vendors such as Broadcom and Freescale offer the best performance for running SDN jobs, he said. However, software implementations do a better job tracking advances in the fast-moving standards.
Broadcom announced its OpenFlow Data Plane Abstraction (OF-DPA), an SDN interface it started work on in the fall of 2012. OF-DPA lets networking programs using OpenFlow version 1.3.1 access networking tables implemented in Broadcom's Trident family of StrataXGS switch chips.
The interface lets systems run OpenFlow tasks such as creating virtual networks across multiple locations and managing traffic flows for Hadoop jobs. A beta version of the interface and tools are available online under the Apache 2.0 licence. General availability is expected by the end of March.
Broadcom developed the interface with two carriers (which it did not name), as well as engineers from the comms systems group of NEC and BigSwitch Networks, a supplier of SDN software. Quanta and Interface Masters Technologies have switches supporting the interface, and BigSwitch will show software using it at the event.
"The goal is to enable an ecosystem of OpenFlow apps," said Sujal Das, a director of product marketing for Broadcom's networking group told us. "This can take OpenFlow from kicking the tires to real deployment." Broadcom plans updates to the interface supporting features that are popular with service providers, including multi-protocol label switching.
Freescale rolls SDN for QorlQ
Freescale announced Vortiqa, a set of SDN software and interfaces for its QorIQ chips supporting Layer 4-7 functions using Openflow 1.3.X. Vortiqa includes an embedded SDN controller implemented in C, a director, and support for network applications such as Linux IPsec.
"We've seen a substantial increase in enthusiasm about SDN in the last 6-8 months, with types of questions we are getting about trial and pilot deployments," said Mike O'Donnell, a director of software business development at Freescale. "When customers can see how to take advantage of SDN with their own apps, [that] is where SDN will start to grow."
Vortiqa runs on Linux using accelerators embedded in Freescale's QorIQ chips. This year, the company plans to roll out the first of its Layerscape platforms optimised for SDN, O'Donnell said.
The Open Networking Foundation behind OpenFlow has already published its version 1.4, which is said to define 42 match fields, enabling a broad set of networking actions. It has also started work on a version 1.5 and expects more extensions to 1.3.x, mainly to support silicon requirements.
ONF created an advisory board of chip makers last year. It also started a Forwarding Abstractions Working Group to define a sort of universal OpenFlow interface to silicon.
"I don't see that as a critical piece of the puzzle," Wheeler said. "Every silicon vendor has an API already, and to create a standard abstraction layer, you need to take the least common denominator, so all vendors would implement some sort of shim anyway."
The OpenFlow work runs in parallel with a similar effort aimed at carriers in Europe's ETSI group on Network Function Virtualisation. The SDN and NFV approaches can be implemented independently or in tandem based on network operator requirements.
- Rick Merritt
EE Times Europe
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