With a sold-out attendance of almost 1,500 attendees, this year’s Open Networking Summit reflects SDN’s continued uptake in the networking industry. While Matt and I kept busy helping out with tutorials, SDN Idol, getting briefed by many SDN companies and chatting with enterprises and service providers, Curt Collins did a wonderful job of covering the two days of conference sessions—worth a read if you weren’t able to make it to the conference (Day One Main Sessions, Day One Research Track, Day Two Part 1 and Day Two Part 2). Also, a shout-out to Craig Matsumoto of Light Reading for both his coverage and collection of photos from the event. And if you have some time, it’s worth watching the archived videos of the tutorials and the sessions on the ONS website.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get enough time to cover all the exhibits or attend all the presentations, but I as I reflect back on the sessions I attended, the exhibits and the meetings we had, I thought a short round-up might be in order.
First off, my impressions on the state of SDN. The theme of this year’s ONS was the “how” of SDN—i.e. no longer spending time defining or redefining what SDN is, but showing how SDN could in fact be deployed in real-world production systems. While we did have more concrete examples of deployment, I came away feeling that 2013 is still the year of proof of concepts (POCs). We’re perhaps at the tip of the early adopter iceberg (seeing as the iceberg analogy was favored by quite a few presenters). The maturity of SDN software solutions and the hardware SDN capabilities of networking gear aren’t up to par for production deployment aside from niche use cases.
In the keynotes and general sessions, there are a couple of things worth pointing out. Intel’s announcements on their updated reference platform using the Fulcrum FM6700 chipset and their DPDK is definitely interesting and brings new meaning to discussions around the “x86-ificiation” of networking—perhaps more appropriately, the “Intel-ification” of networking. With the Fulcrum now being generally available, we have a strong contender to the suite of merchant silicon which were dominated by Broadcom’s Trident/Trident+/Trident2 SDN switches.
In sessions covering real-world deployment use cases, the Microsoft distributed overlay monitoring network (appropriately named Demon) showed a large scale tap in deployment—certainly a good initial use case for SDN that can bring value and cost savings without putting production networks at risk. And this deployment provides further encouragement for all the SDN networking vendors providing a “tapping” application as part of their initial offering. it looks like even OpenDaylight (ODL) will include one. Speaking of ODL, there was a significant buzz around the initiative during the show, and Inder Gopal from IBM’s presentation was quite well-received. Nevertheless, most of the attendees we spoke to are reserving their judgment till later in the year when the code becomes generally available for download.
The other user presentation I enjoyed was Dr. Nagase from Kanazawa University hospital. Dr. Nagase was an impressive individual, and in chatting with other attendees, they came away with similarly favorable impressions. Dr. Nagase is an actively-practicing medical doctor who is also a professor at the university and responsible for the IT networking for the hospital. Dr. Nagase was very eloquent in describing their OpenFlow network from NEC, and how they had in production an OpenFlow network in a single building today, rolling out to other buildings in the future. He was a very competent IT director, getting into the details of his topology and holding his own against other networking architects at ONS. This was probably the first time I had seen a statistical analysis of an OpenFlow deployment vs a legacy switching infrastructure using a generalized Wilcoxon test! While OpenFlow powers only a small to medium production network to date (768 ports), it has been successful and the network today carries critical medical records along with radiology scans. We’re all looking forward to seeing him roll it out at a larger scale—who knows, instead of enterprise-grade, carrier-grade, we could now have medical-grade or surgical-grade SDN!
On the exhibit floor, I managed to catch a few glimpses of new SDN demos, starting with 6WIND showing off a demo of a 6WINDGate-accelerated Open vSwitch (OVS) instance on an HP server with Intel XEON processors. 6WIND showed how their software (utilizing Intel’s DPDK) was able to achieve a 10X improvement in packet forwarding rates of 64-byte packets, taking it from 6Mpps (non-accelerated) to 60Mpps. Definitely something to consider for anyone deploying softswitches in cloud data centers (KVM + OVS anyone?).
As well, the HP/Microsoft UC&C application plus Lync demo was cool, showing a “follow-me” Lync session using an SDN API to HP’s controller to automatically optimize a network of OpenFlow-enabled switches to dynamically ensure higher QoS for voice and video.
A couple of other demo mentions: Radware was showing its DefenseFlow application for preventing DDoS attacks—it uses intelligence it gathers from watching traffic streams to appropriately (1) block bad DDoS flows and (2) prune the amount of traffic its inspection appliance needs to look at to improve performance. Radware is quite smart about how it creates flow filters through the network—managing the number of flows on today’s flow-limited switches, configuring a small amount on core switches and reserving finer-grained filters for virtual switches near the actual virtual hosts they are protecting.
Dell was demonstrating its new version of its Active Fabric Manager (AFM), which in conjunction with their Active System Manager (ASM) (technology from the Gale Technologies acquisition) provides a provisioning, configuration and management solution for converged networks (both data networking as well as storage). They showed booth visitors a demo with auto-detection of newly created VMs and automated application of policies determining the network settings for such VMs, as well as simple service insertion capability utilizing their SonicWall security assets.
Luxsoft was on-hand to talk about their Twister open-source platform, now with support to test OpenFlow 1.3. Twister provides about 200 test cases that help SDN vendors with their conformance testing against the OpenFlow standard. With 1.3, Twister now supports IPv6, tunneling, quality of service. Twister provides a neat web-based UI and detailed logging for post-test analysis. Definitely a helpful tool for SDN vendors trying to roll-out OpenFlow compliant gear.
NEC was showing off its updated ProgrammableFlow solution, previewing multi-DC solution capability, allowing their virtual tenant networks to span DCs—very cool but they wouldn’t tell us what magic encapsulation or tunneling was being used between DCs since it was still in beta. Nevertheless, ven more impressive was its multi-vendor CLOS topology OpenFlow demo–probably the most diverse set of network equipment vendors I’ve seen to date. The screenshot speaks for itself:
We briefly stopped by the plugfest to catch up with Nick Bastin, Matt Davy of Tallac, as well as his colleagues, Bill Johnson (CEO), Paul Congdon (CTO), Chuck Black and Ali Ezza. They had put significant effort into helping get the plugfest going between multiple vendors, including Big Switch, Centec, Dell, FlowForwarding LINC, HP, Huawei, Mellanox, NEC, On.LAB, Overture, Pica8 and Radware.
To wrap up the round-up, we want to offer again our congratulations to James, Tao and Chris of Centec, the SDN Idol winner. The judges, Jim Wanderer of Google, Brad Casemore of IDC, Stacey Higginbotham of GigaOM and Shirish Sathaye of Khosla Ventures, had a fun time grilling the five finalists: Switch Light from Big Switch, Sentinel Security from HP, DefenseFlow from Radware, V550 from Centec and NTT’s global SDN-powered cloud offering. The presenters all did a great job but I must say that James impressed many people with both his spirit, gumption and humility (see his gracious acceptance in the ONS highlights video here 2:28). It certainly put another SDN merchant on the merchant silicon map.
All in all, an action-packed conference and a great congratulations and thank you to Guru and Sedef for all their hard work!
If you didn’t catch the video of Nick McKeown playing Daniel Craig playing James Bond, you can catch it here. Nick’s a spitting image of Daniel Craig (see below). I personally think Vint Cerf is also a good replica of another famous person—maybe for next year.
Montage of photos include some snippets from the ONS website. Screenshots used with permission from exhibiting vendors. Vint, Nick, other photos are claimed under scope of fair use.