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2013 TiECon- Part 2: Software Defined Infrastructure Presentations


Software Defined Infrastructure (SDI) applies to compute, storage and the network within a data center and in the cloud.  This market segment is experiencing tremendous growth and innovation.  It is facilitating increased agility, flexibility and operational cost savings for enterprises and service providers.  The first step in SDI was compute server virtualization and that’s now mainstream.  Network and Storage virtualization are the current target areas.

While Software Defined Networking (SDN) is the new hot topic, that term is being used as an umbrella by networking vendors and service providers.  The only “standardized” version of SDN is coming out of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF is NOT a standards body).  It is based on centralized control and management, with a strict separation of Control and Data planes using the Open Flow protocol (“Southbound API”) to communicate between them.  Network equipment vendors and Service Providers claiming they are ‘SDN Compatible’ have some level of programmable interfaces on their network equipment, but are usually NOT compliant with ONF architecture and Open Flow protocol (the Southbound API”). HP products are an exception- they do seem to be compatible with ONF architecture and Open Flow specification (see AM Keynote below).

This article summarizes the morning keynote and invited presentations at 2013 TiECon.  The third article in this series will cover the afternoon  SDI keynote and panel sessions.  Please refer to the TiECon SDI Track Agenda: for program details.

AM Keynote: Prepare for Software Defined Networking by Dave Larson of HP

HP is a leader in deploying SDN-Open Flow switches with a claim of, “over 40 SDN switches and 20M Open Flow enabled ports shipped.”

In the context of SDN, the company views the network as a single logical fabric with a vendor specific “Northbound API” (from Control Plane module to Application entities) enabling applications to program the underlying network.  Those applications communicate with HP’s Virtual Applications Network SDN Controller, which  “delivers complete agility; enables cloud service centric management and orchestration through the Management layer,” according to Mr. Larson.

A fact sheet on this key SDN product is at:

Image of SDN architecture courtesy of HP. Note, original text associated with Infrastructure block said, "29 Switches – over 15 million ports." This was replaced with the text, "HP Switches with Open Flow to/from SDN Controller."
Base Image Courtesy of HP

HP’s SDN architecture  is illustrated in the figure above.

Four examples of SDN applications using HP SDN products were briefly described by David Larson:

1.  Virtual Cloud Network– Enables public cloud service providers network scalable automation.  Permits an enterprise to securely connect to the cloud and apply their own ‘identity’ to their cloud environment.

2.  Sentinel Security (developed with HBO)- Provides automated, real-time network security and threat detection in enterprise and cloud networks.  Deployed in Australia public schools.

3.  Load Balancing (developed with CERN researchers)- Traffic orchestration using SDN. Goal is to improve network utilization in a high performance computing environmnet.

4.  Unified Communications & Computing (for Lync)- Automated policy for business applications running over an enterprise campus wide network. This application provides: simplified policy deployment, dynamic prioritization, an enhanced user experience.

HP’s SDN vision is to provide end-to-end solutions for campus and branch offices, WANs, multi-tenant data centers and cloud.  For the WAN,  SDN capabilities include: traffic engineering, improved quality of user experience, service automation, and quick provisioning of dynamic VPN services.

The following SDN time-line was presented by Mr. Larson:

  • 1H14:  Deploy SDN controller, Sentinel and Virtual Cloud Network apps.
  • 2015:  Deploy new SDN applications using “RESTful APIs”  (Note: there is no standard for the Northbound API, so HP is suggesting the use of Representational State Transfer (REST) web services and APIs.)
  • 2016: Deploy SDN enterprise wide

Introduction to SDI:  Guru Parulkar, PhD- Stanford & Open Network Research Center

Guru is one of the few SDN speakers that clearly tells you what he believes.  There is no hype, dancing around the issue, or talking out of both sides of his mouth.  Guru says that (pure) SDN is the best opportunity to come around in the last 20 years for the networking  industry.  Here’s why: we need a new network infrastructure to accommodate the current computing environment which has changed drastically in the last few years.

Compute servers are now mostly virtualized and with the huge move to cloud computing and storage, it is extremely difficult to support a virtual network infrastructure based on existing network equipment (which is closed,  vertically integrated, complex, and bloated).  SDN is that new network infrastructure, according to Guru.

SDN will bring a simpler data forwarding plane.  It will permit application builders to control functions such as traffic engineering, routing algorithms for path selection, and mobility policies. The resulting benefits to service providers, data center operators and enterprises include: reduction of CAPEX and OPEX, capability to deploy infrastructure on-demand, and enable innovation at many levels.

A diagram depicting software based infrastructure.

The figure to the right illustrates SDI to control a cloud service provider’s data center (DC) and core network. Cloud Orchestration software interacts with both cloud resident DC Orchestration and SDN Control (of the core network) to deliver  cloud services to customers. Such a core network would be purpose- built for this task and is NOT the public Internet. The cloud resident DC network uses SDN control over the physical DC network which interconnects servers and virtual machines.


A multi-tenant Cloud Data Center with SDN Virtualization, shown below, was presented by Guru.  Each tenant has its own set of higher layer functions that reside above the Network OS.

Image of a cloud data center with SDN virtualization.

Guru is adamant that SDN overlay models will not yield the benefits of pure SDN and therefore should NOT be pursued.   He emphatically stated, “Everything should be redone to make use of the new SDN/ SDI infrastructure.  Warning to enterprises: Don’t try to maintain your legacy network.”

Guru concluded by saying that “SDI represents a major disruption- one that comes along only once in 20 years. It’s an opportunity for innovation and entreprenneurship.  SDI will be developed across (protocol) layers, technologies and domains.  The IT industry is now just at the beginning of a huge change brought about by SDI.”  And that is as clear a message as one can give!

SDN Use Case:   Albert Greenberg -Microsoft Cloud Services

Albert leads cloud networking services for Windows Azure (Microsoft’s cloud IaaS and PaaS offering).  He said that start-ups could benefit from the huge scale and elasticity of Azure, rather than use in house computing facilities or other public cloud offerings.

“The pace of data center innovation and growth is amazing.  We need software control across the protocol stack to manage the ongoing changes,”  he said. The Northbound API (from the control plane to application or management plane) is critically important for IT resource management.  The physical network used by Azure (internally) is flatter, higher speed (10G) and optimized for cloud services.  Consistent performance is realized and outages are largely prevented as a result.

The increased amount of storage in the data center puts greater pressure on the network, as there is much more data now to exchange and deliver to customers.  “Software is the only solution to manage growth and scale of cloud computing.”  As a result, Albert believes there’ll be plenty of innovation opportunities for SDI.  He would like to see greater progress on some fronts, especially specifications for federated control and IP address management.

While Greenberg said he likes the Open Flow concept and simplicity, Microsoft has instead used its own version of SDN (it’s actually network virtualization) in Windows Azure.  That implementation is based on home-grown “SDN” controllers and a network overlay using NVGRE (Network Virtualization using Generic Routing Encapsulation).  However, Microsoft plans to participate in the OpenDaylight consortium ( – a vendor-driven, Linux Foundation open source software project for SDN -Open Flow platforms.

Lightning Round SDN (start-up) winners -I:  

One Convergence,  Pertino, Plexxi

Lightning Round SDN Winners – II

Elastic Box, Cloud Velocity, Lyatiss

Closing Comment:

One of the great things about the TiECON SDI sessions were  no sales pitches, vendor demos, or misleading claims of “SDN support.”  The depth of content, quality of speakers, commercial free, clear and candid remarks by both speakers and panelists made for one of the best conferences on this topic in the last couple of years.  We commend the TiECon team that organized the SDI Track sessions!

Next Up:  Stay tuned for 2013 TiECon Part 3 in this series which will feature the PM keynote on “The coming wave of Data Center Disruption brought about by SDI.”  We’ll also summarize the key points made during several SDI panel sessions and touch on Service Provider views of SDN (Ericsson presenting results of their joint SDN project with Telstra in Australia).

Author Alan Weissberger

By Alan Weissberger

Alan Weissberger is a renowned researcher in the telecommunications field. Having consulted for telcos, equipment manufacturers, semiconductor companies, large end users, venture capitalists and market research firms, we are fortunate to have his critical eye examining new technologies.

10 replies on “2013 TiECon- Part 2: Software Defined Infrastructure Presentations”

Excellent summary of the TiECon SDI presentations. While I didn’t attend that track, your write-up made me feel I was right there!
Was there any tlalk of the “Converged IT infrastructure for data centers and enterprise networks? That term has been tossed around for years, but it hasn’t happened yet. We still have separate SAN and 1/10/40GE networks in data centers and large enterprise networks for storage and compute servers, respectively. Each has its own management system.
When can we expect those to be merged/integrated and controlled by software? That would be true SDI, IMHO!

Steve Herrod’s May 17 PM keynote summary on the Software Defined Data Center did touch on converged infrastructure. But it was in the concept of a single management entity for compute/network/storage, rather than a single DC network for BOTH compute and storage.

As you correctly point out, today there are SEPARATE DC networks- Ethernet-LANs for compute and FC-SANs for storage. Don’t think that will change any time soon.

Although it is a relatively new protocol, Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) allows for a converged network infrastructure with a single network switch able to handle both FC-SAN and Ethernet-LAN traffic. iSCSI is another alternative for some customers who do not want to deal with FC protocols.

Regardless of which converged networking standard that customers adopt, SDN will have a significant impact on all of the data flows within the data center: both SAN and LAN.

It is a great summary of the sessions and I feel like I was sitting in each of the sessions. I would have expected you to ask the speakers as to why they position SDN as a brand new concept. The concept of SDN was done in Telecom when the traditional Class 4 and 5 switches were split into hardware and soft switches. Yes the application here is data networks but the concept is really not that new.

Paul, Thanks very much for your kind words and cogent comment on SDN not really being a new concept. There were a lot of things I and others would’ve liked to ask the speakers, but unfortunately NO QUESTIONS were permitted during the entire track. I will defer to Guru Parulkar to comprehensively answer your question.
When Guru and I first met over 2 years ago (in preparation for a joint IEEE ComSoc-TiE SV “Professors Panel” I was organizing), I pointed out there was the Intelligent Network (based on SS7 control plane) and Soft Switches for VoIP that were well established as “software defined telecom networks.” The SDN research project at Stanford, which gave rise to the “SDN” industry buzz is for today’s Ethernet/IP data networks, which are based on proprietary/closed Switch/Routers.

“Programmable Flow” could be any north or southbound API to/from the SDN Control plane. ONF has standardized on Open Flow as the southbound API- from the Control plane to Data plane. They haven’t standardized any northbound APIs from Control plane to Application or Management plane.

Also thought it was an excellent article! Especially liked the figures from Guru Parulkar’s presentation

Great summary Alan.Although Software Defined Infrastructure ( Compute, Networking and storage ) is very interesting to me , I could not attend many sessions in this track. I was looking forward to the recordings , but, your article provided a very good overview of the sessions. I have worked a lot on the converged infrastructure, bladed compute infrastructure with integrated networking and storage and management of it . I find SDN interesting due to two primary reasons – 1. Moving various services into software layer that can run efficient and powerful x86 infrastructure or cloud 2. Focus on manageability . However, I think that it will still take some time to mature and then we will see how the adoption will be . Looking forward to your next article !

Thanks for a superb summary of TiECon SDI presentations. Especially liked the illustrations and explanations of same from Guru’s talk.

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