Brocade Embraces OpenFlow 1.3

Santa Clara, CA – This year’s Open Networking Summit focuses on the evolution of software defined networking from academic and marketing buzzword into reality. So does Brocade. Today at ONS 2014, the San Jose, CA-based networking vendor announced that it is extending support for the OpenFlow 1.3 protocol across its entire IP routing and switching portfolio. I spoke with Curt Beckmann, principal architect at Brocade and co-chair of the ONF’s Forward Abstraction Working Group (FAWG), to learn more.

OpenFlow 1.3 support, Hybrid Port Mode, and scalability solutions

To Brocade, OpenFlow 1.3 support is significant for several reasons. The two-year-old protocol brings “a richer feature set required for commercial and enterprise networks,” according to a Brocade statement. Among some of the features Brocade considers most important are Quality of Service (QoS), Q-in-Q, and IPv6.

Beckmann added that OpenFlow 1.3 provides “a solid framework” for redundant controller support, an improvement over the “tricky” controller clustering in 1.0. “The architecture is more amenable to controller clustering,” he said, something that Brocade customers have been requesting. Beckmann also called out Group Tables as important for multicast and ECMP functionality. Beckmann noted, however, that capabilities will vary by product line and that Brocade will likely add features through a series of releases.

The gradual addition of features mirrors the gradual adoption of SDN that Brocade predicts enterprises preferring over full rip-and-replace deployments. To that end, Brocade’s Hybrid Port Mode offering will allow customers to run OpenFlow forwarding alongside traditional networking protocols so that enterprises can begin adopting SDN programmability and functionality while still running non-SDN network services. This gradual approach to migration will likely make more sense to enterprises.

For enterprises considering the migration to SDN, scalability is a concern. Brocade also announced two new hardware modules designed to address the issue: the MLXe 2-port 100 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) CFP2 and the MLXe 20-port 10 GbE module. The modules use Brocade’s VersaScale Packet Processing technology and include integrated OpenFlow support and SDN upgradeability.

Currently, Brocade’s ICX and VDX products offer OpenFlow support in hardware and will only require software support—coming later this year—to upgrade to OpenFlow 1.3 functionality. OpenFlow 1.3 support for the MLXe, CER, and CES product lines will hit in June 2014, and existing customers will be able to upgrade at no additional cost.

The competitive landscape—from HP and NEC to Cisco’s “SDN-washing”

Brocade is not the first to market with OpenFlow 1.3-enabled hardware. Other vendors, among them HP and NEC, already offer production-ready OpenFlow 1.3-enabled gear. Juniper, meanwhile, plans to begin offering OpenFlow 1.3 support this year as well.

To Beckmann, this is a good thing.

“We were waiting to see if the controllers were going to adopt 1.3,” he explained. “Overall, we have to look at the medium term, not Day 2. And the fact that there are multiple providers out there makes OpenFlow more compelling. Obviously the whole SDN push was so you’d have choice, and if there’s only one of us, the whole story wouldn’t work very well.”

It’s difficult to bring up choice in the SDN space without discussing Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) and overall approach to software defined networking.

“Cisco is not above doing a bit of ‘SDN-washing,'” Beckmann said. To him, the networking giant’s approach to SDN isn’t in “the real spirit of SDN,” though it does reflect Cisco’s acknowledgement of SDN’s inevitability and the need to remain competitive in a software defined world.

“They do have an advantage because of their vast installed base. Can they leverage that advantage going forward in SDN? It depends on whether the market lets them do that. I definitely see, especially in the service provider space, a little bit of skepticism on the part of the customer,” Beckmann said.

Brocade at ONS and beyond

Like many other vendors, Brocade is using the Open Networking Summit to showcase its SDN solutions. Its Flow-Aware Real-Time SDN Analytics OpenFlow application has earned the vendor a finalist spot in the ONS’s SDN Idol competition. The application seeks to maximize bandwidth utilization and supports SDN security by enabling detection and mitigation of network threats like DDoS attacks in real time. Brocade will demonstrate it using MLXe Core routers within an OpenDaylight framework. Brocade will also use MLXe Core routers and ICX switches to show OpenFlow 1.3’s utility for campus networks and will use VDX switches to demo on-the-fly provisioning for the on-demand data center.

When it comes to the future of SDN, Beckmann sees an eventual narrowing of the controller space as the market stabilizes. “We’ll have the controller as the equivalent of a network operating system. Once we converge on an OS, which I think there’s reason to imagine might be OpenDaylight—but they also have to prove it—the choice will be more in the application space,” he said.

Brocade feels confident in its role in the brave new software defined world.

“We’ve certainly used SDN effectively to get involved in conversations that were harder to join pre-SDN, and in that way, I would say SDN has been good for us and has been a bit challenging for the incumbents,” Beckmann said.

Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

ENP editor Jude ChaoJude Chao is managing editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.

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