Exploring the Future of Ethernet with SDN

By Gilda Foss

Gilda Foss, Industry Evangelist, Office of the CTO, NetApp

TEF Chairperson & Board of Directors, Ethernet Alliance

As we celebrate Ethernet’s 40th Anniversary at the Technology Exploration Forum, we reminisce that it was only 40 years ago that the concept of Ethernet was born.  Over the last couple of decades, Ethernet has become ubiquitous in our daily lives. Today, Ethernet has become the foundational technology for local area networks. It has given birth to a vision of a converged infrastructure that will make it easier to administer, troubleshoot, upgrade and maintain the network.  For years, data center Ethernet switching equipment has been based on closed, proprietary vendor implementation, providing very limited flexibility for the user.

The progress made in open source applications and software can be leveraged in Ethernet switches to create a new generation of open, flexible and customizable solutions.  SDN replaces the traditional closed-code Ethernet switches and allows data center customization for optimized and efficient operation.  Software-defined networking [SDN] is an approach to networking where control is decoupled from hardware and given to a software application called a controller.  SDN will also enhance the end-user experience in the data center space making its management much easier.

The Technology Exploration Forum SDN-focused panels will explore how SDN is playing an important role in enabling the network to adapt further and faster, driving the pace of knowledge and innovation. The panel sessions will discuss how the emergence of SDN has the potential to address the evolving connectivity requirements for Big Data and scale-out networks.  Scale-out networks are optimized network infrastructure for scalable environment for Big Data and high-performance computing (HPC).  The advent of SDN in 40GbE / 100GbE will support high traffic environments such as HPC, cloud and virtualized data centers.   Furthermore, the panel will discuss using scale-out network architectures and how today’s data center can offer large aggregate bandwidth.

Network switches deployed in the scale-out architecture were generally realized using reasonably sized routing tables for common deployments. When the scale-out architecture is employed in the large data centers, routing tables in these switches are often seen as the limiting factor when workload mobility and thus flattening of the network is needed. To create a flat network, every Ethernet switch in the scale-out network needs to carry large number of forwarding entries.  SDN enables small routing tables to be deployed in scale-out architectures.     

The SDN panelists will also discuss how software defined networking gives a centralized table computation model and the techniques that can be used to realize higher aggregate table sizes in scale-out deployment along with meeting the mobility and flattening of the network objectives. The end-to-end view of the scale-out network allows the SDN controller to perform effective aggregation of the forwarding entries at the network level.  

The recent emergence of SDN is a development with huge potential to address burgeoning connectivity requirements.  Including data virtualization, and management of high performance network architectures, this transformation of the network from the classic architecture of discrete physical tiers to a highly resilient cloud-optimized architecture is already under way. SDN is enabling one overarching orchestration level by directly addressing the inflexibility and complexity that makes today’s networks a constraint for network operators. By combining Ethernet with SDN, operators will have the power to optimize their network for virtualization on every level and enable the kind of collaboration that meets future bandwidth. We are thrilled to provide deep-dive panel discussions on this hot topic.

The goal of SDN is to allow network engineers and administrators to respond quickly to changing business requirements. In a software-defined network, a network administrator can shape traffic from a centralized control console without having to touch individual switches. The administrator can prioritize, de-prioritize or even block-specific types of packets with a very granular level of control. This is especially helpful in a cloud computing multi-tenant architecture because it allows the administrator to manage traffic loads in a flexible and more efficient manner. Essentially, SDN allows the administrator to use less expensive, commodity switches and have more control over network traffic flow than ever before. 

Please visit our TEF 2013 website for more information and details – we look forward to seeing you there in October!