How to get the most out of software-defined infrastructures

As next generation software-defined networking (SDN) solutions emerge, organizations planning to deploy new web-scale applications, virtualized environments and software-defined infrastructures need to find new ways to scale and optimize performance. Specifically, they need to enable virtualized and software-defined environments to optimize bandwidth, reduce latency and increase I/O operations per second (IOPS).

“Essentially, the promise of SDN is to enable organizations’ networks to keep pace with highly virtualized server and storage environments and eliminate a bottleneck for provisioning new applications and services,” says Bob Laliberte, senior analyst from Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). “Legacy networks utilize an inefficient node-by-node management paradigm, in which manual processes make moves, adds and changes time consuming and inefficient.”

SDN reality check

These challenges explain why comprehensive SDN deployments aim to not only reduce costs but also optimize the virtualized environments they support and accelerate IT’s responsiveness to the business. IT administrators eye SDN’s centralized control, programmability, and the automation of change and configuration tasks.

For networks 10GbE and beyond, the ability to accurately control and apply programmability at the I/O system level becomes important. This requires greater visibility into the traffic and the ability to inject services from a central control plane to drive efficiencies and reduce errors.

“[With] virtualization on its own, you just scale efficiency,” says Shaun Walsh, senior vice president of Corporate Development and Marketing at Emulex. “But when you add software-defined capability, which is where the virtual network functions, I can change the security level, the application delivery speed and latency.”

These capabilities can be achieved with unified, end-to-end network fabrics, including intelligent I/O systems. Virtual network fabrics (VNFs) – virtual networks layered transparently over traditional networking infrastructure – are key enablers of SDN. The VNF facilitates software automation needed for IT administrators to set up and dynamically manage rapid and large numbers of virtual machine (VM) relocations and ensure VM network connectivity and mobility.

Intelligent I/O

To enable this aspect of SDN, especially for cloud service providers and telcos, Emulex has created a programmable platform on its OneConnect OCe14000 10/40GbE network adapters featuring an application performance interface (API) for integrating next-generation SDN solutions.

“We’ve added overlay or virtual network functions,” says Walsh. “Microsoft calls its version NVGRE. VMware calls its version VXLAN. But they allow you to create a virtual private network between your data center and public resources and with that, you now have secure multi-tenant computing.”

For Walsh, what matters is the combination of security and efficiency. The key to achieving this is intelligent I/O. Coupling VXLAN or NVGRE with the OCe14000 deployed at the edge, enterprises can leverage the distributed edge processing for more effective I/O and network virtualization. “I/O technologies, such as Single Root I/O Virtualization (SR-IOV) and support for VXLAN and NVGRE, are essential to an SDN environment as it frees up precious CPU processing power, allowing it to be used to support more VMs,” says Laliberte. “With higher VM densities, CIOs can lower their opex and capex by requiring fewer physical servers.”

Code at the edge

The opportunity presented by intelligent I/O systems with edge processing to inject programmability at the edge is strategically important for SDN adopters. Laliberte expects this to positively impact host CPU performance and server virtualization technology. “While most of the SDN buzz has been focused on physical switches, virtual switches, and controllers, architects would be well served to investigate the potential benefits of intelligent I/O systems capable of network processing to strengthen their SDN deployments,” he says.

Cloud environments, for example, will require higher levels of automation and programmability, and having intelligent and programmable I/O systems at the edge will enable these organizations to transition to an SDN-enabled cloud environment without any drain on the CPU.

To this end, the OneConnect OCe14000 adapters support secure hybrid clouds with VNFs and further leverage RDMA over Converged Ethernet-based low-latency architecture to deliver application acceleration.

“With higher bandwidth, reduced latency, increased IOPS, and the ability to efficiently facilitate virtual machine migration both within and between data centers, the Emulex OCe14000 adapters … deliver an ideal solution for heterogeneous customer environments deploying a range of cloud, SDN, and virtualized data centers today,” says Saleem Muhammad of Dell Networking.

The future looks promising as innovative possibilities emerge. “With the programmability of the card, we have memory on the card so we can do captures,” says Walsh. “If there’s a red flag on the dashboard that says the server is performing poorly, we can start to capture traffic coming in and out of the server and attribute it to a specific VM. Being able to combine network monitoring and server monitoring would give [Emulex] a unique positioning in the market.”