Q

How an OpenFlow deployment affects data center hardware, software

An OpenFlow deployment requires switches and a controller that conform to the OpenFlow protocol, but interoperability is not guaranteed.

What hardware and software changes are needed for a successful OpenFlow deployment in my data center? Are there any interoperability concerns?

OpenFlow deployment will require OpenFlow-compliant switches, such as an HP ProCurve or an IBM G8264, and an OpenFlow controller, such as the Big Network Controller from Big Switch Networks. NEC also provides a PF1000 virtual switch for Hyper-V intended to support OpenFlow software-defined networking (SDN) and network virtualization in Windows environments. Equipment typically includes the software elements needed to support communication between and the configuration of the controller and switches.

In terms of interoperability, the OpenFlow protocol addresses messaging and programming considerations; it does not define the actual hardware-level design of OpenFlow routers, switches or other networking equipment. Vendors can implement any internal designs as long as the device complies with the established instructions and semantics of the protocol's language.

While OpenFlow equipment should operate within the same standard, it does not guarantee overall interoperability. An organization considering the move to SDN may want to adopt equipment that is reported as interoperable with equipment currently in use. Places such as Indiana University's membership-based SDN Interoperability Lab evaluate the interoperability of SDN products.

In addition, IT planners should verify interoperability using careful in-house testing or proof-of-principle projects before rolling out SDN initiatives to a production data center.

A major consideration regarding interoperability is backward-compatibility, which ensures that equipment that uses newer versions of the OpenFlow standard works with equipment running previous versions. This may require firmware upgrades to the older equipment.

This was first published in May 2013
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