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New OpenFlow Controller, Virtual Switch Debut from NEC

As SDN technology evolves, NEC has launched a new version of its OpenFlow controller that supports IPv6 and OpenStack. NEC has also released a virtual switch to support OpenFlow in Hyper-V environments.

NEC has announced the availability of two new products for software defined networking (SDN). The PF1000 is a virtual switch with OpenFlow support. It runs on Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor. The company has also released enhancements to its ProgrammableFlow 6800 controller, including support for IPv6 and for OpenStack.

The PF1000, which NEC says is available for free, is a virtual switch plug-in for Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V. It allows NEC's ProgrammableFlow controller to operate in Hyper-V-based virtual environments in addition to physical network devices that support OpenFlow. NEC says the PF1000 supports up to 1,280 ports per virtual switch and up to 260,000 flows. It allows for automatic discovery of VMs, device and topology. NEC says it is targeting multitenant data centers and enterprises that want to be able to create isolated virtual networks while also supporting VM mobility.

"Being the first to market with virtual switch for Hyper-V is a feather in NEC's cap," says Mike Fratto, senior analyst at Current Analysis. "Having OpenFlow that spans physical and virtual networking, plus northbound APIs, means companies using Microsoft's hypervisor can leverage the benefits of an OpenFlow SDN network regardless of where the hosts reside in the data center."

That said, being first may not provide much advantage for NEC. "Until companies adopt OpenFlow in the physical network, the benefits of the PF1000 are nil," says Fratto.

NEC also announced version four of its ProgrammableFlow 6800 controller, which represents the "brains" of the network in a controller-based SDN deployment. The latest version, which supports OpenFlow 1.0, adds support for IPv6. It also supports OpenStack, an open-source software platform that serves as an orchestration layer for compute, storage and network resources in a cloud environment. NEC says its controller includes a plug-in for the Quantum API, which is the networking component of the OpenStack platform.

NEC also enhanced the northbound API in its controller. The API exposes networking functions that applications can use to request network services. NEC says the enhanced API allows for more complex capabilities, such as advanced ACLs, traffic redirection and QoS capabilities. The controller is a Linux appliance that can be deployed in an active/standby cluster.

While SDN adoption among enterprise buyers is miniscule, that hasn't stopped the market from leaping into the space, nor has it stopped vendors from putting forth competing architectures.

Among network vendors, NEC is the first to offer a controller, OpenFlow-enabled switches and a software switch. IBM has a controller and switches that support OpenFlow, while HP has 25 OpenFlow-enabled switches, and has announced that a controller will be available this year.

Meanwhile, Cisco Systems and Juniper have announced SDN strategies, though neither have released SDN products as of yet. VMware is also pursuing an SDN strategy, though its approach is based on network overlays. Startups are also pushing into the market, including Big Switch Networks, Midokura and Plexxi.

NEC's virtual switch is available as a free download. The controller, which is licensed on a per-switch basis, starts at $14,800 for 10-switch license.

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