Here at SDNCentral, we’ve seen a good amount of recent interest in SDN solutions beyond just layer 2–take the recent acquisition of Vyatta by Brocade for example. When we had the opportunity to interview John Giacomoni, founder and CTO at LineRate Systems, we wanted to find out more about how a layer 4-7+ solution could also apply SDN principals to solve real-world problems. In particular, it is notable that PhotoBucket, one of the web’s largest photo-sharing site uses LineRate to perform novel functions within the network layer. For more details, read on!
SDNCentral: To help our readers understand the context, perhaps you could start by describing your view of what SDN is, and how a company like LineRate plays in the SDN ecosystem?
John: “The basic tenet of SDN architectures is simply that the control plane is separated from the data plane via an open API. A lot work is going into building network controllers and orchestration systems that provide centralized command and control of the network. So now it’s time to turn our attention back to the data plane and uncover opportunities that haven’t been considered until now.
What do I mean by that? There has been a lot of good work that has occurred at the Fabric layers of the network, that is, Layers 2-4. The value at these layers is pretty solid and can be seen by the success of Nicira, vCider, Vyatta, the adoption of OpenFlow and Google’s backhaul deployment of OpenFlow.
At LineRate our sights are firmly set on leveraging the capabilities at the application Services layer and beyond. We believe this is where the SDN discussion has to evolve to services that operate at Layer 7+, what we call SDN Services.”
SDNCentral: What makes LineRate different from other SDN companies? There’s a lot of L4-7 companies claiming to be SDN today, what do you believe to be your differentiation?
John: “We believe that the SDN discussion has to move up the value stack to encompass network Layers 7 and beyond. We are doing this in two ways:
First, we have developed the highest-performance SDN Services platform to handle large scale use cases.
Second, our pure-software product, LineRate Proxy, brings together the performance of hardware Layer 7 traffic managers with a fully programmable data path that allows netops and devops to push whatever application logic they need into the network.
To restate that, we allow controllers and orchestration systems to make the network more efficient by injecting policy into the network in the form of code that can act directly on application layer messages, again at Layers 7+. This means that the network can be emancipated from being a “dumb” pipe connecting applications in a point-to-point fashion.
To make this more concrete, I’ll talk about a specific real-world use case that can only be accomplished if the network has programmatic control over Layer 7 and beyond. Photobucket brought us an interesting use case early in our relationship. They wanted the their network to be able to query a database and return “bandwidth exceeded” images for image requests belonging to offending users without needing to burden their application servers. In effect, they wanted to push application layer logic into the network. You’re probably thinking, that’s crazy that’s an application task. To which I’d say that traffic management systems are an integral part of network design and have been providing similar capabilities in the form of purpose built features. Customers win when they can extend the network’s capabilities with their own proprietary logic.”
SDNCentral: That is an interesting and new way of using the network. So, what specific products and solutions does LineRate provide, what types of customers do you sell to and what general problems do you solve for them?
John: “Our LineRate Proxy product has been available since this spring and is in production networks today. It provides full proxy-based intelligent policy-based traffic management and runs on x86 servers. Our HTTPS REST API makes it a snap to be autoscaled and be integrated with orchestration systems. Our proprietary operating system allows us to deliver 10x the Layer 7+ performance of other software solutions. With the addition of a fully programmable data path, netops and devops can make the network an active element at the application layer.
We’re solving problems for service providers and webscale datacenters. For example, as I described earlier, Photobucket is looking to push their application logic closer to the customer. Cloud providers are looking for ways to give users the ability to elastically scale and define their Layer 7+ services without a trouble ticket. Mobile network operators are looking to improve their traffic management capabilities through Layer 7+ message steering and provide network based value-add services such as parental controls and ad insertion.”
SDNCentral: Can you describe a few of the use cases you just mentioned and show how this approach adds value for customers like mobile network operators, webscale companies and enterprise data centers?
John: “Sure, the use-cases for programmable SDN Services like LineRate Proxy are literally as broad as one’s imagination. I’ll describe the Ad Insertion use case as it is simple and then focus on the interesting part of Message Steering.
Ad Insertion is a revenue-generating use case being investigated and deployed by mobile network operators, or MNOs. Their goal is to monetize their wealth of demographic and geographic customer information by being able to share it with advertising networks in real time. An MNO can instruct our LineRate Proxy to examine every HTTP message, selectively query a remote ad database for ad targeting information based on partner relationships, and then insert the information into the messages as they flow through.
Another use case, Message Steering, is a Layer 7+ traffic management function that offers MNOs distinct advantages over flow-based steering. First, by splitting an HTTP message stream into distinct messages an MNO can reduce the size of their services complex by steering message precisely to only the relevant systems in parallel, effectively eliminating the need for over-provisioned systems to handle irrelevant traffic. For example, a web optimization service should not need to handle video traffic that accounts for 50-70% of all MNO data traffic.
A second advantage of Message Steering is its ability to steer in-bound response messages. For example, in HTTP it is not always possible to determine what the content type of a given request message is until the response comes back. With LineRate Proxy one can programmatically intercept the response and do a number of interesting transformations. In one use case that we are working on for MNOs, the data path has the ability to cache and re-issue requests based on information contained in the response. This allows the MNO to engage a video optimization service retroactively without the client being any the wiser—that is without customer visible redirects being issued.”
SDNCentral: That’s cool. You just mentioned programmability again – can you describe how NetOps and DevOps could actually push application logic into the network?
John: “Exposing the data path to outside development is tricky as there are many ways in which things can go wrong. It’s important to note that one doesn’t need to be a data path expert to get good results. The key is to choose an open language and API that allows for arbitrary message steering filtering, transformation, and analytics without sacrificing performance.
To achieve this we implemented the Node.js API, as Node is well-known and its event-driven model makes it writing performance data path code straightforward. Additionally, Node has a large community of developers and drivers to interact with third party services including Cassandra, VoltDB, and Memcached. To maximize performance we backed critical Node elements with our high performance C++ objects and imported Google’s V8 JIT compiler.
At the end of the day, Node allows our customers—from webscale to enterprise to mobile network operators—to tailor our data path to their particular needs.”
SDNCentral: When will these features be available? Are you planning on shipping the next version of LineRate Proxy soon?
John: “LineRate Proxy has been available since April 2012, and is running in a number of customer production sites. We are demoing the use cases I’ve just mentioned for our next major release coming in Q1 2013 for beta customers.”
SDNCentral: Good luck with the next product release and thank you for your time!