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SDN: The user view

John Dix | July 1, 2013
Q&A with early SDN adopter Steve Wallace.

And then, of course, there is the data center network, where we have systems in a virtual machine environment that provide for business process automation, things like registration and accounting, and then on the other side there are machines dedicated to supporting computational-intensive research.

So we have all of those things and SDN can play a role in many parts of the environment. In virtualized parts of the data center, for example, the university provides what is essentially a multi-tenant environment, so different departments might have VMs running applications that are specific to that department. So the university has to support multi-tenant isolation, it has to enforce the appropriate policies and it has to be efficient. People need to be able to grow and shrink their resource consumption as required, build out their applications, that kind of thing. So when you look at where SDN is really taking off now, that's a natural sweet spot. You start to look at network as a service as it's presented in OpenStack, start to get this environment that makes it easy to provide the multi-tenant isolation, provide for VM migration and do this using SDN technology.

How will you get from there from here? Will it be finding niche applications for SDN like the IDS example you described?
Yes, I think we'll do more of that. For example, another niche use case is instructors that would like to show the contents of their iPad on the screen in a classroom. They do this at home using Apple TV and they expect, reasonably so, they should be able to do this on their high-tech campus. Well, it turns out it's more challenging to do this on campus. At home the iPad and the Apple TV are on a single network, and in a campus environment that's usually not the case. We have some ways to solve this problem using OpenFlow, and it would require a little bit of OpenFlow in the access portion of the network. So technically it would mean putting at least one OpenFlow switch in the broadcast domain of the networks that serve our classrooms. So that's a little more incremental rollout to solve a niche use case.

We'll continue to explore niche problems, and at some point in time we would like to have a plan for an all-SDN OpenFlow campus network. We've been keeping in touch with the folks that make controllers to understand how their feature sets are evolving and trying to help them understand the kind of features we see as being required.

Most of the products that support OpenFlow today kind of back-ported that support into existing designs, and this year we're seeing products where OpenFlow was thought about much earlier in the design process, and so the products are more capable. You also see chip designers like Broadcom making advances, improving support for OpenFlow and helping inform the folks that work on the OpenFlow standards on how the abstraction layer can evolve in a way that is reasonably easy for them to implement.


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