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OpenFlow 1.3 Support: Why It Matters

With vendor support, the latest version of the SDN-enabling protocol has key features enterprise networks need and gives customers confidence in its future.

OpenFlow is quickly becoming a very important foundation of the future of networking. Vendors are rolling out support for the latest version of the protocol -- OpenFlow 1.3 -- across a variety of product lines. This means customers can start architecting software-defined networks with the assurance that OpenFlow will be available for the long term.

The importance of OpenFlow 1.3 support cannot be understated. The original release of the protocol, OpenFlow 1.0, contains support for a limited subset of switching functions, and allows for activities such as network slicing and matching on Type of Service (ToS) markings on a packet. But it doesn't include many other features that are important to enterprise customers and service providers.

Fortunately, OpenFlow developers didn't stop innovating. The Open Networking Foundation, which manages the protocol, quickly released improvements in version 1.1 and 1.2. However, development was occurring too quickly for vendors to keep up; products in the design phase were developed on obsolete software before they were even released.

Consequently, vendors pushed back and asked for the OpenFlow development cycle to slow down. OpenFlow version 1.3 allowed vendors to catch up to a stable version before the ONF started iterating again.

OpenFlow 1.3 support is critical to the future of OpenFlow-enabled networks. The features that are enabled in version 1.3 are are very important in datacenter and campus networking: IPv6, Quality of Service (QoS), and support for service provider Q-in-Q tunneling. More important is its leap from basic support to incorporating a more robust feature set. Changing the architecture of a switch to support OpenFlow isn't easy, and there had been questions about scalability and feature completeness with OpenFlow 1.0.

By supporting OpenFlow 1.3, vendors can show customers that they are committed to the protocol long term. Building in new features with each release means that OpenFlow is quickly reaching parity with other network operating systems. Ensuring that those features can be installed on a given device is important to customers -- no one wants a device that can only run an old version of OpenFlow and can't be upgraded. Lab equipment is great for testing to prove a protocol can function in a production network, but it isn't made for production deployment.

[Read how new forwarding technologies and the emergence of SDN are changing the Ethernet switch landscape in "The Evolution Of The Ethernet Switch."]

OpenFlow 1.3 represents production-grade OpenFlow. The recent announcement from Brocade of OpenFlow 1.3 support across its MLX and VCS product lines shows that vendors are ready to bring OpenFlow out of the testing lab and into the live network. NEC and HP already have OpenFlow 1.3 support and companies such as Juniper plan to release support in the coming months.

For those looking to deploy OpenFlow in a modern datacenter, OpenFlow 1.3 is the key. With critical features and a stable code release, customers can finally go to the decision makers and plead their case. Hardware support for multiple versions of OpenFlow means that the features can evolve over time. The stability of OpenFlow 1.3 means no late nights debugging network behavior due to incomplete code.

OpenFlow 1.3 is the future of networking. Vendors looking to evolve their network products lines are either already shipping this version or soon will be. Customers can now feel confident that the changing architecture of the software-defined network now has sustainability.

Tom Hollingsworth, CCIE #29213, is a former VAR network engineer with 10 years of experience working with primary education and the problems they face implementing technology solutions. He has worked with wireless, storage, and server virtualization in addition to routing and ... View Full Bio
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