Enabling the paradigm shift

Traditional networks and data centers are being stretched to their limits. SDN can help.

Tags: Brocade (www.brocade.com)
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Enabling the paradigm shift Samer Ismair, MEMA network consultant at Brocade.
By  Samer Ismair Published  June 24, 2014

The main advantage is an increase in agility and flexibility, not to mention cost savings. The SDN approach allows the effective use of network resources and is particularly useful for applications such as VM (virtual machines) mobility, mission-critical networks and IP-based mobile networks. OpenFlow is the pre-requisite for this paradigm shift.

OpenFlow is an emerging, industry-standard SDN communications protocol that provides access between the forwarding plane of a network switch or router and a network controller, facilitating more sophisticated traffic management and engineering.

How does OpenFlow work?
In a classical router or switch, the fast packet forwarding (data path) and the high-level routing decisions (control path) occur on the same device. An OpenFlow switch separates these two functions. The data path portion still resides on the switch, while high-level routing decisions are moved to a separate controller, typically a standard server. The OpenFlow switch and controller communicate via the OpenFlow protocol, which defines messages, such as packet-received, send-packet-out, modify-forwarding-table, and get-stats. The data path of an OpenFlow switch presents a clean flow table abstraction; each flow table entry contains a set of packet fields to match, and an action.

The hybrid approach
With hybrid port mode, OpenFlow is able to integrate and run on the same physical infrastructure as traditional routing and switching. This unique capability provides a pragmatic path to SDN by enabling network operators to maximise the value of their network. It gives them the programmatic control offered by SDN for specific flows while the remaining traffic is routed as before, and it is possible to scale up the OpenFlow deployment as network demands change.

Specifically, this means that users can operate their traditional network parallel to an OpenFlow network. The traffic can flow between the networks without having to go through a switch. The result: lower costs, because each port in the switch costs a certain amount. The cost of enabling OpenFlow is drastically reduced, since a network manager can use OpenFlow without interrupting the traffic on the existing network. Configuration time is drastically reduced since OpenFlow can be as easily activated as enabling IPv6 in Windows 7.

OpenFlow is thus the basic foundation for SDN, enabling organisations to realise huge savings without major investment and at the same time bringing flexibility to the network infrastructure.

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