Brocade Accelerates SDN to 100Gbps

You don't have to go OpenFlow or nothing anymore as Brocade debuts a new hybrid approach that allows for selective use of OpenFlow alongside existing routers.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted May 23, 2012
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Software defined networking (SDN) is getting a major boost this week from networking vendor Brocade. SDN is a way to separate the control from the data plan, creating a programmable network flow. It's a new approach being embraced by networking vendors big and small.

OpenFlow on Brocade's MLX 100GbE routers

Brocade is now one of the big vendors fully supporting SDN and the OpenFlow protocol on its existing MLX series of 100 gigabit Ethernet (GbE) routers. Going a step beyond just supporting SDN, Brocade is also providing new models for how SDN can be deployed on the network alongside traditional routing tables.

"We're creating an evolutionary model where network administrators can add OpenFlow into an existing networking paradigm without changing the way that traditional forwarding works," Keith Stewart, director product management at Brocade told Enterprise Networking Planet. "

OpenFlow is the cornerstone open source protocol that is used for SDNs, but it's not the only technology that is needed to fully create a programmable network.

"Software defined networking is about figuring out how to virtualize the network and create arbitrary logical topology on top of physical topology," Stewart said. "It's about how I add new differentiated service offerings on top existing infrastructure and it's about automating and orchestrating the new environment."

From a Brocade product perspective, the NetIron OS 5.4 release that powers the MLX and MLXe series of routers now supports OpenFlow. The MLXe is the flagship Brocade router delivering as much as 15.36 terabits per second. The MLXe can scale as high as 32 ports of 100GbE.

"In the case of OpenFlow, we've enabled it in hardware for flows up to the full capacity of whatever system you're using." Daniel Williams, director of Product Marketing at Brocade told Enterprise Networking Planet.

Programmable packet processors

Hardware support is enabled by way of a programmable packet processor architecture with FPGAs. New microcode can be introduced to the FPGAs to provide hardware support for protocols that run on the control plane.

From an implementation perspective, OpenFlow can be delivered in a native as well as a hybrid mode.

"Hybrid mode is the ability to have simultaneous support for OpenFlow and traditional forwarding," Williams said. "So the customer can deploy an MLX into an existing network where the traffic is handled by traditional routing and then selectively enable OpenFlow."

The hybrid mode is being delivered to two different flavors. One is the Protected Mode which is intended for research facilities. In Protected Mode, the OpenFlow capabilities cannot affect traffic forwarding handled via traditional forwarding.

"Research networks are designed to have a production network where they want most of the traffic routed with traditional means," Williams said. "But they also want to enable researchers to use OpenFlow to move certain flows of traffic across a network."

The other flavor of hybrid OpenFlow is Unprotected Mode which is targeted as service providers.

"In this case, service providers want most traffic to be handled in a routed situation and then they use OpenFlow to selectively pull flows of traffic off routed infrastructure for special handling," Williams said. "In this case, OpenFlow can change the behavior of the traffic that you see on the normal routed network."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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