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10 SDN Platform Options

  • While software-defined networking may not be on your near-term roadmap just yet, you should at least begin the process of understanding the technologies and platform options available to you. SDN is being driven because networks now lag behind other areas of infrastructure, particularly in the compute and storage arenas. Advancements such as virtualization, distributed architectures, big data and cloud computing will require networks that can adapt and optimize on the fly using centralized intelligence. In this slideshow, we'll look at 10 SDN platforms that are likely to impact enterprise networking.

    When you look at each of the platforms, you'll likely notice similarities, differences and reoccurring themes. While the southbound OpenFlow protocol is currently the most widely supported and used, there are plenty of alternatives available and each platform supports a different range of protocols.

    Included with the commercial SDN platforms we highlight are many open source SDN platforms, such as OpenDaylight. A number of commercial SDN products actually leverage open source platforms, but tweak them to better suit their customers. Commercial products also provide support options that are not available in an open source project.

    It’s important to understand the differences between platforms that are pure SDN and those that are designed for network virtualization and NFV. Platforms that are considered software-defined networking are those that utilize hardware and software to not only orchestrate dynamic policy, but also to forward those frames/packets on a complete system.

    Network virtualization on the other hand, does not have the native forwarding capability. Instead, it creates a virtual network overlay using software that performs similar path control functions of SDN, but all forwarding duties are done at the physical underlay layer. Network functions virtualization (NFV) takes this concept to the next level by virtualizing layer 4-7 network functions such as firewalls, intrusion prevention systems and load balancers. Both network virtualization and NFV can operate on networking equipment that is not SDN capable. Keep in mind that it’s also possible to combine both SDN and NFV to provide the benefits of both architectures.

    (Image: Ksenia Palimski/iStockphoto)

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  • OpenDaylight

    In terms of open source SDN options, OpenDaylight is by far the most well-known. OpenDaylight is a collaborative project led by the Linux Foundation. The software is written in Java and claims extensive compatibility support from vendors such as Big Switch and Cisco. Many other SDN  platforms, such as Brocade’s, are based on the OpenDaylight platform. OpenDaylight not only supports the OpenFlow protocol, but also other southbound protocols such as BGP-LS and LISP for added flexibility.

  • Cisco ACI

    Cisco seems to be hedging its bets in the SDN market by having its hands in a number of SDN platforms. But its best known  SDN contributions is Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI). ACI is a data center SDN architecture  deployed on Cisco's Nexus line of data center switches. One differentiator is that Cisco best practices recommend the use of OpFlex when implementing ACI. OpFlex is Cisco’s own southbound protocol, which it has proposed to the open source community.

  • ONOS

    An open source alternative to OpenDaylight and similar spinoff platforms is ONOS. This platform was originally headed by the Open Networking Lab,  but in late 2015, the project joined the Linux Foundation. Because of this, there have been rumors that ONOS and OpenDaylight will eventually merge.

    ONOS uses a unique method for exposing northbound and southbound interfaces in such a way that the application policy engines, interface protocols and orchestration systems are completely independent. This approach lends itself to a tremendous amount of flexibility. ONOS was designed for service providers.

  • Project Floodlight

    Floodlight is a Java-based and Apache licensed open source SDN platform is. The project is managed by SDN startup Big Switch Networks. It's a widely popular platform and is commonly thought to be one of the easier SDN platforms to implement. While the platform primarily supports OpenFlow-only physical and virtual switches, it allows the capability to run Floodlight over a non-OpenFlow network.

  • VMware NSX

    The biggest hurdle for SDN adoption is the fact that most network equipment in production today doesn't have the ability to understand southbound instructions from protocols like OpenFlow. VMware's NSX network virtualization platform uses the concept of VXLANs to create a software overlay across non-SDN speaking components. By doing so, it allows for the deployment of SDN-like intelligence and flexibility without the high up-front cost of ripping and replacing hardware.

  • Beacon

    Beacon is the precursor to Project Floodlight. And much like Floodlight, it runs on Java and supports the OpenFlow southbound protocol for communicating instructions to networking equipment.

  • Juniper Contrail

    OpenContrail is an open source network virtualization platform focused on cloud deployments. Juniper has packaged a commercial version known as Contrail Cloud Platform. This solution combines Contrail for NFV as well as OpenStack for orchestration. The key differentiating factor between Contrail and other SDN platforms such as OpenDaylight is that Contrail focuses on the use of NFV overlays using standard protocols such as BGP and MPLS.

  • VortiQa

    VortiQa is a commercial-grade SDN platform developed by Freescale Semiconductor, which was recently acquired by NXP. The platform is OpenFlow compatible and also includes southbound API capabilities at OSI layer 3 and higher.

  • POX

    One of the very first open source SDN platforms that supported OpenFlow was called NOX. While NOX was one of the first, it suffered from some limitations that prevented widespread adoption. To address these problems, a new platform based on NOX was born. And now we have POX. POX is a Python-based SDN platform that is currently managed by the Open Networking Lab. While it's not  deployed much in production networks, many use it in development networks because the platform is ideal for rapid development of prototypes.