Why Has SDN Adoption Been So Slow? – Pluribus Networks Briefing Note

The move to commodity hardware changed the way data centers scale compute and storage resources. The network, for the most part, is being left out of the movement. Once an organization makes a network vendor selection, it has very few choices when it comes to introducing new vendors into the environment. Even if a prospective vendor can provide advanced features or lower prices the organization is stuck with its chosen network vendor.

Software defined networking promises to break these shackles and enables the organization to intermix network switches, leverage new software features and provide high levels of automation making moves, adds and changes to the environment more seamless. But despite very compelling reasons for adoption, the rate has been much slower than other software defined initiatives.

The Commoditization of the Network

The reality is most switches from regardless of what the vendor badge on the front indicates all come from one of a handful of factories and most leverage the Broadcom chip set. In other words, hardware commoditization has already taken place. What creates vendor lock-in is the software that the various vendors install on these switches. In most cases, with traditional networking vendors, their network operating software is relatively basic and only works with that vendor’s version of the switch. It certainly doesn’t rival the capabilities of market leading networking companies and does work across broadcom switches for example.

A Common Network Operating System

What the switch market needs is a common network operating system that allows these various switches to be managed as a single entity regardless of vendor. The network operating system should also provide the advanced network management capabilities data center operators have come to expect from the market leaders. In fact, given that the network operating system solution would not have to worry about the hardware, it should have more time for innovation and solve problems that even the market leaders have yet to solve.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is a term often used to describe this effort but it is often a confused term. For some, it means that a particular software vendors network management or operating system can be used across a variety of switches. But while they allow a mixture of hardware vendors, managed by a single software solution, they do not create a holistic network fabric.

Other vendors claim that SDN is a separation of the control plane from the data plane, but they do not allow the freedom and flexibility of allowing that software solution to manage and operate a variety switch hardware. In other words, IT is back to square one, with a turnkey, inflexible solution. At best, these two “types” of SDN can be described as first-generation SDN attempts. Second-generation SDN solutions provides the best of both, creating a holistic controller-less fabric that can both manage and operate multiple hardware solutions and stretch the network into a single world-wide entity, creating a holistic network fabric.

Why Commoditize the Network?

The number one reason to commoditize the network is to reduce costs, both capital and operating. These open switches are far less expensive than the typical name-brand switches, and, with the right operating system, multiple switches from multiple vendors act as one. The commoditized network also reduces operating costs. The software drives these networks, which means that automation across switches is much easier to execute. Workloads can move between hosts within the data center or even across data centers and the workloads network configuration can follow it or the network setting can be adjusted depending on the workload’s new location.

The Software Defined Network Challenge

The goal of SDN is to reduce costs and increase flexibility. The problem is thus far the cost of achieving these goals has been unnecessary disruption, inability to operate with existing networks and protocols and increased complexity.

First-generation SDN architectures require all switches in the network to be similar since they need to communicate with the “SDN controller”. While some generation one vendors claim that multiple hardware vendors switches can be leveraged they must all adhere to the same chipset, essentially they are the same with different logos on the outside. The result of this “sameness” is that all switches in the data center need to be replaced (both the leaf and spine) to enable communication. With first-generation SDN, there is no option of supporting legacy switches. The first-generation SDN does not allow organizations to gracefully migrate to SDN by supporting mixed vendor networks – essentially, it is all or nothing with controller-based first-generation SDN architectures.

Introducing Pluribus Networks

Pluribus Networks is a network operating system company to provide both the network OS as well as an extensible fabric architecture that embodies next generation SDN architectures. It’s Netvisor OS runs on a variety of open network switches. These switches can be from multiple vendors and of various configuration, and Pluribus Netvisor makes many distributed devices operate as a one big single switch. With the operating system installed these once basic switches provide all the capabilities that one would expect in an enterprise class layer 2 or layer 3 switch.

D-Link System recently introduced its open networking hardware strategy, and certified the Pluribus’ Netvisor network virtualization software to work with its DXS-5000 series of open networking hardware platforms. D-Link will integrate and resell the Netvisor OS with its switching platforms to provide a turn-key, integrated open network solution for its customers. Existing Pluribus customers can seamlessly add a D-Link DXS-5000 hardware device to their existing networks and achieve seamless interoperability with other open networking switches.

Maybe something about D-Link’s move into the open networking hardware segment makes sense, and increases customer options for hardware devices for SDN deployments.

Netvisor enables Pluribus’ Adaptive Cloud Fabric architecture, which is a distributed, peer-to-peer software defined network fabric that clusters multiple switches into a single operating domain. It does not require proprietary protocols or SDN controllers. The fabric can be implemented in a single data center, campus or distributed geographically to support seamless interconnection of multi-location environments.

The solution also includes full telemetry capabilities which can be leveraged through CLI, or accessed with Pluribus Insight Analytics performance management platform. It can eliminate the economic and operational barrier associated with traditional monitoring infrastructure (based on packet brokers, hardware taps and expensive tools), and brings flows and packet analytics to broader enterprise networking deployments ranging from campus to data center.

No More Network Tickets

Pluribus’ Adaptive Cloud Fabric is fully programmable, allowing for the automation of the provisioning of a new application or IT movement, eliminating the need for network administrators to have to be involved every time a change is made to a workload’s location.

Recently, Pluribus expanded its relationship with VMware. The integration enables the complete automation of VMware virtual machines’ network configurations. The VMware administrator can also, directly from within vCenter, change a VMs network configuration as needed. Finally, Pluribus is able to co-exist and extend the capabilities of VMware’s NSX solution. It provides hardware accelerated L2 VTEP Gateway to integrate bare metal services with VMware NSX.

Pluribus vProbe extends the telemetry picture by providing insight into the VM server and delivering end-to-end network analytics to include the hypervisor domain. The result is unified visibility into east-west workloads and traffic across the network underlay, NSX overlay, vSAN stack and the VMware hypervisor.

StorageSwiss Take

Of all the software defined initiatives, software defined networking seems to be the one with the most obvious need. No other component of IT infrastructure is so locked into a particular vendor, nor is there another component that can benefit from automation like the network layer can. But, to this point, SDN adoption has been anecdotal thanks in large part to the complexity of the conversion. IT professionals see the potential of a “frying pan and into the fire” scenario.

Pluribus Networks seems like a step in the right direction. The elimination of dedicated proprietary controllers and protocols enable the data center to move to SDN at their pace without disruption. Then, the capabilities of the solution gives them something more than just cost savings, it gives them an operational advantage.

George Crump is the Chief Marketing Officer of StorONE. Prior to StorONE, George spent almost 14 years as the founder and lead analyst at Storage Switzerland, which StorONE acquired in March of 2020. In his spare time, he continues to write blogs on Storage Switzerland to educate IT professionals on all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought-after public speaker. With over 30 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS, SAN, Virtualization, Cloud, and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration, and product selection.

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Posted in Briefing Note

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