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SDN: The user view

Q&A with early SDN adopter Steve Wallace

By , Network World
June 28, 2013 02:08 PM ET

Network World - It is still early days in the emergence of software defined networking, so there aren't many users around to share their experiences and expectations, but there are a few. Network World's editor in chief tracked down Steve Wallace, executive director of InCNTRE, Indiana University's Indiana Center for Network Translational Research and Education, which is already using the technology in a production environment. The school is also playing a role in the tech's evolution.

NW: How did IU get started in SDN?

Steve Wallace
Steve Wallace is executive director of InCNTRE, Indiana University's Indiana Center for Network Translational Research and Education.

WALLACE: Indiana University supports some of the world's most advanced network infrastructure, such as the Internet2 100Gbps per wave 15,000 mile fiber backbone, through its Global Network Operations Center, or GlobalNOC. So it was natural to be involved at the early phases of something called GENI. GENI is an NSF-funded project to support research on outside-of-the-box network technologies and approaches. IU has been successful at applying for and receiving GENI awards that allow us to accelerate our exploration of SDN and OpenFlow.

IU also maintains good relationships with vendors that cater to large campuses and service providers, the same vendors that began to show an early interest in SDN and OpenFlow. We added that all up and saw a need for vendors to be able to conduct interoperability testing of SDN products and, with sponsorship from some of the vendors, developed what we call the SDN Interoperability Lab. It's a membership-based consortium of companies like IBM, Cisco, HP ... there are about a dozen members. They pay an annual fee and we provide a facility where they can test their products' interoperability with other SDN products.

Indiana University is also using SDN in its networks. For example, Internet2 recently received a $60 million grant to build out a new nationwide fiber optic network. They've leased 15,000 miles of fiber, purchased state-of-the-art optronics to light the fiber, and the Layer 2 equipment that sits on top of that is composed of Brocade and Juniper switches that are under the control of OpenFlow. Indiana University developed the controller software that provisions services over that network using OpenFlow.

 
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So that's a production network that spans the country, and the provisioning is done solely through the use of an OpenFlow application that was developed at Indiana University.

How about in your campus net?

Indiana University has more than 10Gbps of Internet capacity. Our security group needs to examine that traffic for threats. But intrusion detection systems typically don't run at those speeds so they need to take that 10 gigabits of traffic and divide it into smaller, coherent chunks and forward them to individual IDS systems. You don't want to split a conversation, so you need to make sure each chunk being directed to an individual IDS is a complete conversation.

So they needed an intelligent load balancer to dynamically balance traffic among the IDS systems. There are devices you can purchase to do that, but they tend to cost in the $100,000-$200,000 price range. We saw this was an obvious use case for SDN and OpenFlow, so we hired a couple of grad students to develop software for an OpenFlow controller that instructs a $40,000 OpenFlow-enabled switch to do the load balancing. This is something we use in our production network.

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