SDN Gets Some Help with Scalability

Don’t take scalability for granted when it comes to SDN. Learn what SDN scalability requires and who's working to provide it.

By Arthur Cole | Posted May 1, 2015
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Nearly everyone who is contemplating software defined networking (SDN) these days is thinking about scale-out architectures.  Big Data and the Internet of Everything have the enterprise industry spooked that if a solution does not scale, it isn’t likely to be taken seriously.

What most IT executives may not realize, however, is that scale is not actually intrinsic to SDN. Separating the control plane from the data plane goes a long way toward establishing dynamic networking fabrics, but scale is a different matter, primarily because it involves the careful orchestration of not just network resources, but server and compute as well.

The scalability demands of SDN

The most direct way to accomplish this is with a highly modular infrastructure. SDN fabric designer Plexxi recently teamed up with PSSC Labs to integrate Plexxi switching and control modules into PSSC’s Cloudera-based compute platform. The result is the CloudOOP Big Data Pod, aimed at scale-out Big Data applications distributed across data center and multi-cloud architectures. By linking the platforms together, the combined solution avoids bandwidth and other performance-related issues and reduces the hardware footprint to enable highly dense configuration. And Plexxi’s Big Data Fabric solution is designed to extract and analyze network data from platforms like Cloudera in order to optimize network configurations for key workloads.

Network scalability also requires a robust policy engine capable of maintaining consistent operation across multiple platforms and applications. This is the secret behind Extreme Networks’s OneController, which was recently integrated into the OpenDaylight platform and Microsoft’s Skype for Business unified communications solution. The OneController NetSight management stack enables group-based policy distribution across end-to-end network architectures, even in multi-vendor "brownfield" deployments.

And with security a primary concern, any scalable SDN deployment needs to maintain top-flight firewall protection no matter where data travels. Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) recently got a boost in this area with the addition of Fortinet’s Fortigate security appliance. Fortigate provides firewall, advanced intrusion prevention (IPS), threat management and a range of other tools for dynamic, distributed data environments. Within the ACI framework, the platform offers automated security provisioning on a per-application basis, allowing operators to quickly scale optimized network architectures for a variety of uses.

The role of hardware in SDN scalability

And while SDN purportedly lifts network configuration and other functions off the physical layer altogether, hardware can still play an important role when it comes to maintaining high-scale environments. Netronome’s Smart Flow Processing solution, for example, utilizes intelligent, open NICs designed to future-proof network infrastructure for hyperscale deployments. In conjunction with the FlowEnvironment software stack, the Flow NIC provides high-speed offload of Open vSwitch, NFV service chaining and other data plane functions to enable a tenfold performance boost for network applications.

Network scalability is certainly a lot easier in the software world than in hardware, but this does not mean it can be taken for granted. As data activity picks up, software defined networks will need to not only scale, but scale rapidly while maintaining the end-to-end functionality that is required of increasingly mobile, collaborative workflows.

If Job 1 is to deploy SDN, then Job 2 should be to learn how to scale effectively.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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