SDN Integration: Same as it Ever Was

The dream of open SDN integration and connectivity fractures into a reality of closed, limiting vendor collaborations.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Jul 22, 2016
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One of the earliest promises of SDN was that abstraction of network services would enable a grand, unified connectivity paradigm, doing away with the messy business of integrating disparate platforms, topologies and vendor solutions.

It’s probably too early to say that this vision has been completely dashed, but neither has it proven to be as easy as initially thought. The fact is, with most organizations still working on getting basic SDN functionality in place, the notion of a unified, end-to-end network ecosystem is not foremost on many priority lists at the moment.

So far, the creation of an integrated SDN environment has proceeded along the same lines as in traditional network infrastructure: through piecemeal agreements between vendors. Pica8, for instance, recently teamed up with HPE to integrate the PicOS operating system with services delivered through the HPE SDN App Store. This makes it easier to create a customized SDN solution between PiCOS and systems like the HPE Altoline switches and VAN SDN Controller, both of which can be directed by OpenFlow-based policy management. At the same time, Pica8 provides a free, community-based app called Privatizer to enable multi-vendor VLAN functionality within the PicOS ecosystem.

Meanwhile, SDN deployments also have to contend with multiple platforms governing the SD-WAN, the SDDC, and other domains both inside and outside the data center. This can hamper connectivity in distributed environments. Avaya and FatPipe recently forged an alliance to confront this issue by integrating their respective platforms into a validated end-to-end solution. In short, the system brings FatPipe’s automation and zero-touch provisioning capabilities to Avaya’s OpenStack-based Fx platform, which combines an intelligent network edge with transparent core switching to provide single-hop connectivity from any point on the network. In this way, organizations can build fully interconnected data centers that function as a single, distributed entity.

This is all well and good for newly virtualized infrastructure, but what about that legacy plant that still has value to the enterprise? A company called FusionLayer says it has a solution, but again it has to be implemented on a vendor-specific SDN deployment, like Nuage Networks’ Virtual Services Platform (VSP). The companies recently announced a union in which FusionLayer’s Infinity IP address management system will provide unified management across traditional networks and VSP architectures. Once deployed, Infinity automatically pulls network configuration data from VSP to provide real-time contextual visibility into the stack. It can then link traditional network resources to the VSP stack for immediate service activation, providing central management of all workloads, containers and even NFV elements.

And as expected, open source communities like the Open Networking Foundation and the ONOS Project are keen to establish a broad-based virtual networking architecture that allows for highly customizable, highly scalable fabric architectures. The two have recently begun collaborating on an L2/L3 leaf-spine solution that can quickly establish open-source SDN functionality on commodity bare-metal hardware. The system utilizes the Edgecore hardware specifications defined by the Open Compute Project as well as various switching software platforms, such as OCP’s Open Network Linux and Broadcom’s OpenFlow Data Plane Abstraction API. Project leaders say it provides a high-availability solution that supports multi-instance ONOS controller cluster functionality, plus integration with Brocade’s vRouter to interface with traditional networks using the BGP and OSPF protocols.

So in the end, there are multiple ways to integrate SDN solutions with various hardware and software platforms, but only under pre-defined conditions in which the various vendors and development communities have agreed to work together. This isn’t altogether surprising considering that even abstract networks have to conform to the economic realities of revenue-generation and market development.

But it also means that even as SDN removes much of the complexity that exists in current network management architectures, it introduces new barriers to interconnectivity that must be addressed in the same fashion: through piece-by-piece integration.

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