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Hyperscale SDN with Open Switch Solutions



Network programmability linked with greatly enhanced central control and management will have a major positive impact on operating costs as the need for truck rolls and specialist support staff intervention is dramatically reduced. The necessary interfaces and APIs required to make this happen will also improve network platform integration and vendor interoperability which in turn further improve the overall ROI equation. This is what makes the promise of SDN so attractive and is why it is having a major impact on data center and enterprise architectures. When coupled with NFV, it provides the potential to reduce carrier capex and opex by replacing dedicated systems with virtual functions running on standard servers, switches and open COTS platforms that integrate standard server hardware with standard switches.

SDN may be in its early days; however, adoption is likely to be quicker than with many earlier technology introduction cycles. IT consulting and market research firm IDC reported that SDN momentum is building in datacenter and enterprise network. According to their recent study, adoption is growing at an 89 percent annual rate and SDN is on track to become an $8 billion market by 2018.

Interoperability, Scalability, Flexibility

Even before SDN, software was a pivotal piece of the puzzle as all major network equipment vendors can attribute much of their success to their cohesive and highly compatible software base. This made perfect strategic sense as although hardware does provide contributed margin, software is the key differentiator and money maker. Hardware was, and is still, required and being able to deploy software across a broad range of extensible platforms maximized reuse, installed base and market penetration. The same equation holds true for SDN, and as other initiatives such as NFV take hold, proprietary platforms will be replaced by more off-the-shelfstyle server technologies. The key to optimizing network flexibility will be interoperable and scalable platforms that meet the needs for variable capacities, while remaining fully compatible with the SDN software overlay. As with any technology in the networking field no node is an island and the idea of a single vendor network is unlikely if not unthinkable. Interoperability and real world integrated solutions is where the industry is now focusing its attention.

With interoperability in mind, the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) has facilitated Open SDN through the Atrium open source project, which uses Quagga-BGP peering as the application, a control plane for the ONOS open source SDN project, and OpenFlow v1.3 as the Southbound API/protocol between the control plane and the data plane.

Hardware interoperability between an ONOS SDN Controller running on a generic server and different vendor data plane switches, each using different switch silicon, was recently tested and takes vendor interoperability a big step forward. What’s more, the ONF Flow Objectives Interface translates an abstract flow into one that any vendor’s I/O driver can interact with and removes the previous OpenFlow dependency on the data plane switch hardware

To meet the goal of maximizing reuse, utilizing a series of core platforms based on a scalable foundational architecture is a solid starting point. Having access to units that can meet various capacity and port count configurations allows for the flexibility to deploy exactly what's needed for a given location in the network. Platforms that can be extended as capacity requirements grow, adds the last important characteristic to consider when choosing the perfect hardware approach for SDN implementation.

Advantech Networks & Communications Group (NCG) provides a range of hardware options that help can meet these requirements. The group has been developing specific products for networking market since 1999 and now serve many of the world’s leading networking OEMs with a broad range of standard and custom blades, appliance platforms and fully integrated systems. Advantech is also a premier member of the Intel® IOT Alliance and the Intel® Network Builder ecosystem which guarantees the earliest access to pre-release silicon. This means they can keep their customers at the forefront of the development curve and in many cases new revisions of Advantech boards, blades and platforms are released in sync with Intel's formal market release of new processors.

As discussed earlier, one of the goals is to utilize a scalable architecture as the foundation for a range of network elements. Intel's advanced processors fulfil such a goal as they providea compatible software development and execution environment thatenables developers to maintain a consistent code base across a complete range of products. From Intel® Atom™ to Intel® Core™ i7 and Intel® Xeon® processors, OEMs can choose from the latest generation silicon, the fastest and most reliable LAN access devices, and specialized hardware accelerators to respond to their customers' growing needs for performance and application consolidation.

Structured around the Intel silicon platform Advantech offers OEM ready appliance and system platforms with throughputs ranging from 10 Gbps in a 1U rackmount format to over 1 Tbps of switching capacity in a 14-slot ATCA system. As an illustration of how SDN solutions are being built atop the scalable foundation provided by Advantech, let’s look briefly at a real example – the ESP-9212.

SDN Switches

A recent Open NetworkingUser Group study indicated that Network architects are looking for open switching platforms that are programmable, scale easily and offer greater operational simplicity. In addition they want to be able to better understand what’s going on in their network as virtualization becomes the norm. Equipment Providers are looking to white and brite box (brite stands for branded white) solutions that are more commodity based using merchant silicon that make the switch more prpgrammable and economical. They also want the network to become a much more useful tool with new services and capabilities that give them greater network insight. With higher performance compute on the control plane, the local x86 processor can run a lot more open source network intelligence applications spun up in a virtual machine inside the switch. This allows the switch to identify not only who is connected to the network fabric but where they are connecting and how they are moving traffic. It’s now possible to run full packet capture in a PCAP file, store and export it for later analysis. Moreover it is now possible to perform full application flow analytics and monitor network health by tracking application latency, port utilisation, and traffic congestion for example. Value added features such as these are contributing strongly to make open SDN-enabled switches slowly become mainstream.

Gartner estimates that by 2018, non-traditional switching will account for more than 10% of global data center port shipments.This validates the business case and will allow more hyperscale switching concepts in to the mainstream. New deployment models are emerging as the market opportunities grow with network switching vendors allowing their software to run on white-box hardware and letting other vendors software run on their hardware.

System integrators are also adopting different models by integrating switching hardware and software, bundling in new services and providing full support packages to the customer.

Several such integrators selected the ESP-9212, a high performance, open, ToR (Top of Rack) switch, on which to launch their own SDN offerings.The ESP- 9212 open, programmable switching platform is built on the Intel® Xeon® E3-1265L processor connected to a Broadcom StrataXGS switch processor with six 40GbE ports and forty-four 10GbE ports in a 1U rackmount design. The Intel® Xeon® processor E3-1265, integrates four 3.5GHz Intel® Xeon® processor cores that support Intel® AES-NI and Intel® VT. The device also integrates Intel® QuickAssist Technology and is supported by the Intel®Data Plane Development Kit (Intel® DPDK). The Trident II from Broadcom is used at the core of the switching solution providing up to 680Gbps of forwarding bandwidth.


Switching solutions built using the ESP-9212 provides an ideal platform upon which to buildhighly scalable, feature-rich, TOR switches and aggregation equipment to connect big data, cloud and optimized workloads in the data center. Advantech’s open platform approach enables SDN solution providers with a flexible and high performance OEM-Ready product upon which they can easily deploy new and enhanced features to meet next generation data center switching needs.

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