How Data Centers Can Implement Open Networking Now

The use of Open Networking promises operational value, data center flexibility and a reduction in the cost of network infrastructure. Next Generation SDN (Software Defined Networking) promises automation, increased agility and a reduction in operational costs of data center networking in single site and multi-site data centers. With adequately designed open network solutions, gaining these values is possible without a complete, disruptive refresh of existing network infrastructure. Now, Network Operations can start IT on a journey that progresses from using an open Network Operating System (NOS) leveraging cost-effective white-box switches that continues on to a complete software-defined network (SDN). This approach provides the ultimate in automation, while also integrating with existing proprietary networking hardware. The challenge facing organizations is not when these technologies are enterprise-ready (they are now) but how to start the journey.

All The Pieces Are Already in Place

Before starting on any journey, an organization needs to confirm that all the components are in place to complete that journey. In the case of Open Networking, they are: Network Operating Systems (NOSs), which are available now from several vendors and that can work with currently available white box switches. Some of the NOS offerings enable the organization to create a network fabric that resembles their virtual server infrastructure. In a virtual server infrastructure, the critical component is the hypervisor, while in a white box virtualized network, a capable NOS is the critical component. With the proper NOS selected, the organization can use and manage a variety of different white box switches from different vendors while achieving a consistent operational model and single pane of glass for management.

As the organization continues the journey, both controller-based and controllerless SDN solutions are available either from the same vendors that provide the NOS or from dedicated SDN controller vendors. In the data center these SDN solutions should provide a VXLAN overlay fabric for the spine/leaf architecture, some sort of network slicing/segmentation and also provide an increased level of automation. The controllerless solutions are becoming popular, especially in multi-site scenarios as they distribute the networking automation and management functions across all switches at all sites.

Additionally, controllerless solutions do not suffer the cost burden of multiple redundant controllers, the latency penalties for establishing new flows or network re-convergence, or the single point of failure with out-of-band management seen with traditional controller-based solutions. These SDN solutions also provide advanced telemetry that enables the organization to troubleshoot their network proactively. The deep telemetry capture provided by SDN paves the way for future use cases like intent-based networking (IBN). IBN enables the organization to create application-level service agreements with which the network automatically conforms.

Why Introduce Open Networking?

The “why” is often as important as the “can.” As stated in our prior entries the reasons for open networking and SDN are compelling. First, open networking with white box switches should provide significant cost savings to the organization. Some studies claim that companies can reduce the cost of their network infrastructure by as much as 50% or more.

Second, open networking provides much greater flexibility and feature velocity. The organization can easily change hardware vendors if another vendor provides better service or better pricing. The flexibility also enables the organization to adopt new technology sooner, like higher bandwidth switches and switches with greater port densities. Third, open networking enables increased management efficiency. The current networking staff is likely overwhelmed by requests, and they take days or weeks to respond. With Open Networking and SDN, many of the required tasks can be automated and pre-programmed.

How To Get Started

At some point, the research and study of open networking should end, and implementation needs to begin. The first step is to understand which of the organization’s workloads are migrating to the cloud and which are staying in the data center.

The next step is to determine if the organization can consolidate data centers or if the organization wants to migrate all or some of their infrastructure to one or more carrier-neutral colocation facilities. During data center consolidation or migration to colocation facilities, the right Open Networking NOS can make the transition easier by unifying the multiple sites into one logical SDN-controlled fabric and automate network configurations to adapt to applications as they move to their new location.

Within each data center, organizations should examine their current (brownfield) networking infrastructure for components that are going to stay in place as well as those that are either reaching the end of life or can no longer meet the performance demands. Instead of upgrading to a switch from the same proprietary vendor, use Open Networking with NOS and SDN to introduce white box switches into the environment. Again, some white box switches and SDN can easily coexist with proprietary switch vendor hardware in a brownfield environment while other open networking and SDN solutions may require a complete rip and replace.

New (greenfield) initiatives are an obvious candidate for introducing Open Networking concepts. Over time IT can gradually integrate open networking into the existing proprietary backbone. However, a brownfield scenario is more-often-than-not the typical environment.

One additional consideration is for the organization to understand their edge compute strategy. If the data center operator is looking at deploying mini or micro-data centers closer to their end-users then more weight should be put on the multi-site capabilities of the offering – the ability to deploy an SDN controlled fabric across multiple sites with low latency becomes more and more important.

Once the open networking switches and NOS are selected, they should go through a proof of concept in one data center or across multiple data centers in a multi-site scenario. Once the POC is proven out for the environment, full deployment can occur.

Conclusion

Open Networking, Network Operating Systems, White Box Network switches, and Software Defined Networking are all mature and ready for the enterprise. They are no longer solutions exclusively for cloud providers and hyper-scalers. The financial justification for Open Networking is beyond compelling as are the gains in operational efficiency. The only remaining piece is for organizations and IT planners within those organizations, to start taking the first steps on the open networking journey. In particular they must carefully examine the capabilities of the NOS and SDN control implementation to ensure the right solution is selected for the data center operator’s environment.

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and 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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