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The Intel® Development Forum in Beijing took place two weeks ago and the interest in my two SDN-related presentations was very high.

 

My poster chat drew about 40 or so people who stopped by in groups of 6-8 to hear the high-level overview to the Intel SDN story.  The attendance more than doubled for my conference session, where I went a bit deeper into Intel’s new data center and telecom network transformation initiative – giving a preview of the three product announcements made at the Open Networking Summit.

 

One challenge that is unique to China is scaling new web services for a potential market of 1.3 billion people – almost four times that of the U.S.  There were a lot of questions on this topic from top service providers, which I took to indicate that scaling is very important.

 

The other difference I noticed is that with less of a legacy network infrastructure than in the U.S., Chinese network managers are very open to trying new things to get the scalability and performance they need to deliver great service levels.

 

One key element of my presentation was a deep dive into why new networking platforms, like ONP introduced at ONS, are so necessary to advance the state of the art of SDN, and to providing ease of scaling in these high performance data centers.

 

As the server virtualization trend expanded into network virtualization, building high-performance, low-latency networks became much more complex for enterprises and data center operators.  New IP protocols like TRILL helped, but maintaining server/network coherency became very labor intensive.

 

To network managers dealing with this challenge, the SDN promise of separating the network control plan into a central network controller architecture was an immediate solution to a nagging problem.  And, first-generation networking products delivered on this promise by layering SDN onto existing switches. 

 

But the promise of SDN is much bigger than that; it’s nothing short of opening networks to a wave of innovation around new software functionality along with additional network cost-per-bit reductions. That’s the total story that ONP delivers on.

 

The potential of SDN for network innovation mirrors the transition from proprietary mini computer to the PC, which spawned countless innovations thanks to its combination of standard processors and operating systems and value-added applications.

 

In the network version of this story, enterprises evolve from vertically integrated networking platforms that are closed and slow to innovate, to a more open system with standardized switch silicon that has an open API to the control plane (or control planes for specialized applications).  These control planes then communicate through another API with apps running on a virtual server. 

 

This means that a network that had to be architected around special appliances to do packet inspection or provide security can now have those applications running on a high-performance server. The global controller will know what packets need to be processed by that application and will direct them to the application before forwarding them to their destination.

 

This architecture breaks down many of the barriers to entry in this market.  For new players, all they need are their software skills to develop their application. They can sell it into any network that supports the open API – regardless of the manufacturer.  On the other side of the coin, an existing software company can use standard hardware to easily develop its own complete solution, speeding time to market.

 

For every company that needs to scale quickly and keep network costs and complexity low – especially in fast growing economies like China – this is really good news.

“An inflection point is an event that changes the way we think and act.”

 

With this quote from Andy Grove in her keynote speech, Rose Schooler, VP of Intel Architecture Group and GM of Intel's Communications and Storage Infrastructure Group, launched the next phase of Intel’s SDN-based data center and telecom network transformation initiative at the Open Networking Summit this week.

 

The speech capped a great show for me and for the Intel Communications and Storage Infrastructure Group.  Our goal going into the event was to help the industry see how to get the full value out of the open networking paradigm shift. 

 

In just under an hour, Rose accomplished that by providing an overview of our datacenter and telecom network strategies, introduced three new products and let partner VMWare and customer Verizon demonstrate how they are using products from Intel.

 

Here’s a summary of the key products that were launched at the show (you can read more in our press release):

 

Intel® Open Network Platform Switch Reference Design: You’ve read about “Seacliff Trail” in this blog before.   What’s new is a tight integration with Wind River Open Network Software and a customizable software stack using Wind River Linux.  Seacliff Trail is now the ideal reference design for OEMs, offering a combination of customizable software and fast, low latency merchant silicon for next-generation SDN data center networking systems.

 

Intel® Data Plane Development Kit Accelerated Open vSwitch: With this project, Intel wants to help Open vSwitch developers speed up performance of small packets. The bulk of the packets in virtual machine networking applications are 64 Kbytes, and with the accelerated Open vSwitch we’re able to boost small-packet port-to-port performance by 10 times and accelerate virtual machine-to-virtual machine performance by five times.

 

Intel® Open Network Platform Server Reference Design: This innovative virtual network server reference design called “Sunrise Trail” will allow OEMs to create virtual appliances on standard Intel-architecture servers.  The reference design combines the DPDK Open vSwitch, support for SDN and NFV standards along with the Intel® Xeon® processor, Intel 82599 Ethernet Controller and Intel Communications Chipset 89xx series.  More to come on this new reference design as the first alpha units are due later this year.

 

Rose closed her speech with another Andy Grove maxim about inflection points – that they reflect a change in customer’s values and preferences. 

 

As you can see from these significant new products, Intel is moving fast to be in a good position to address these customer value and preference changes. 

Last year Intel® participated in its first demonstration of software-defined networking (SDN) at the Open Network Summit.  This year we’re coming back to the show with an expanded SDN product strategy and a new Open Networking Platform that will open up the entire SDN value chain for data centers.

 

The show opened yesterday in the Santa Clara Convention Center with a full day of tutorials and then an evening reception amongst the exhibits.  The program starts today and runs through Wednesday.

 

Last year, we said that the SDN revolution “starts at the switch.” This year, we’re bringing together the other elements of an SDN solution that will enable customers to dramatically boost the fabric performance in virtualized data center environments.

 

Starting on Monday, I’ll be staffing the booth at the show to demonstrate our SDN solution. In addition, our Seacliff Trail 48-port 10GE top-of-rack switch will be in a multivendor demonstration of NEC’s Programmable Flow Controller. 

 

On Wednesday, Rose Schooler, Vice President of the Intel Architecture Group and General Manager of the Communications and Storage Infrastructure Group, will make a keynote presentation that will cover key aspects of our Open Network Platform. She will announce some new components of the platform and talk about the customer need it meets. 

 

If you are not going to the show, but would like to hear Rose speak, you can watch the live webcast of her presentation.

 

The world of open networking moves fast.  The progress we’ve shown since ONS 2012 shows that Intel is keeping pace.  Check back for more blog updates later this week.

We started our blog series on software defined networking (SDN) use cases by looking at how SDN might enable network virtualization (http://communities.intel.com/community/wired/blog/2013/03/01/sdn-use-cases-network-virtualization).  We continue on a somewhat similar application by looking at SDN and virtual network appliances. 

 

Many networks utilize specialized appliances, such as firewalls, load balancers, WAN accelerators and others, to provide specialized network packet processing and functionality.

 

Many of these are now being turned into virtual appliances.  The term “virtual appliance” was coined to describe a self-contained virtual machine powered by an operating system that had a pre-configured application on top.

 

In the enterprise data center, one of the challenges of the virtual network appliance is that it often needs to be in the data path – either before the router, in the case of a firewall, or before a server, in the case of a load balancer. 

 

SDN replaces IP routing functionality on each switch with a network controller that can see all data and resources on the network and directs data flows.  With this global view, it can redirect data packets to virtual network appliances directly. In essence, it creates a data path for each data flow in order to direct it to the right virtual appliance.

 

This is also important in cloud applications where multi-tenant virtual servers may need dramatically different resources and where virtual data paths complicate the sharing of virtual appliances.

 

The network flow flexibility that SDN brings to datacenter and cloud networks makes virtual network appliances an even more viable and cost-effective way to deliver the network processing needed for secure and high-performance networks.

Later this week, I’ll board a 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to Beijing to take part in the Intel® Developer Forum on April 10-11.

 

If you are going to the event and are interested in what Intel is doing in the data center and connected systems market, I recommend that you first go hear our General Manager Diane Bryant give her keynote talk about the future of our business, on April 10 between 9 and 11:00am.

 

Then, you can hear me talk at two times during the conference: at my Poster Chat on April 10 at 2pm, and at my April 11 session presentation at 3:45pm (where I will pair up with Shashi Gowda of our Wind River Systems division).

 

In both talks, I’m going to be sharing how Intel sees the future of the software defined network (SDN) market and what product plans are in place to help OEMs participating in this market.

 

In this blog post, I’ll touch on my poster chat, and next week, I’ll provide an overview of the session presentation.  If you’ve never been to a poster chat, it is exactly what the words say – I have created a large poster and I describe it and answer any questions that come up.

 

My poster for IDF Beijing covers the following topics:

  • The evolution from traditional IP networks to SDN networks and the advantages that come from that.
  • A description of the Intel Ethernet Switch FM6000 functionality.  Here I will talk about how we get low latency and discuss our Seacliff Trail 48-port 10GB/40GB Ethernet switch reference design.
  • From there, I’ll go into a discussion of our software architecture that starts with APIs to open the FM6000 to SDN controllers, and contains the operating system and other software components necessary to fully implement SDN switching.
  • Then, I want to dig deeply into our FlexPipe frame forwarding architecture, which is built with advanced frame header processing that makes it flexible for an evolving standard like SDN.

 

It’s a lot to talk about in an hour, but I’m looking forward to providing a high-level overview that I can then explore further in my workshop.  More on that next week.

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