The Steady March of Open Networking into the Enterprise

Wednesday Feb 15th 2017 by Arthur Cole
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Several recent industry announcements show that vendors and their enterprise customers are embracing open networking.

The prevalence of open networking solutions in enterprise channels strongly suggests that proprietary systems will play an increasingly marginal role in the data center and across the wide area relatively shortly.

But how will organizations manage this transition, and does it really provide the kind of hands-off management regime that is said to be vital to emerging software-defined architectures?

Two recent developments portend the further erosion of monolithic, proprietary switch platforms, says IDG’s Stephen Lawson. The first was Barefoot Networks' announcement that Edgecore Networks and a Taiwanese manufacturer called WNC will start shipping switches based on its programmable chip architecture. The second was Cumulus Networks’ introduction of a turnkey platform that features the company’s OS on Edgecore hardware. Both solutions are expected to allow the enterprise to implement open network architectures quickly and easily while maintaining connectivity both for legacy systems and emerging functions like DevOps and big data analytics.

Legacy vendors are also joining the open switch movement by supporting some of the leading consortiums driving the abstract networking field. Dell EMC recently unveiled a pair of switches – the N3132PX-ON and N2128PX-ON – that conform to the Open Compute Project's (OCP) Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) standard. The devices are aimed at campus networks and provide auto-sensing technology to accommodate multi-rate connectivity up to 5 Gbps on legacy Cat 5 and 6 cabling. The switches can also accommodate a range of network operating systems, including the Cumulus OS, but Dell has not said whether it will offer pre-configured versions.

Open networking is also proving to be a big draw for virtualized and container-based workloads. VMware’s purchase of several key assets from SDN developer PLUMgrid is expected to bolster the company’s ability to orchestrate OpenStack environments across both SDN and NFV architectures. The new Open Networking Suite (ONS 5.0) supports the latest Kilo and Liberty releases of OpenStack and will likely combine with VMware’s NSX hypervisor and the company’s own OpenStack distribution to provide unified management for virtualized resources, security functions and the OpenStack IP, says eWeek’s Chris Preimesberger. At the same time, ONS 5.0 extends support to Docker containers, Cisco’s Nexus 9000 switch and the IPv6 protocol.

But even as traditional networking vendors are warming up to open systems, open developers are accommodating some of the tools of traditional vendors. OpenStack developer Mirantis, for instance, recently started reselling the commercial version of Juniper’s Contrail management stack and has adopted the OpenContrail system as the default fabric for its Mirantis OpenStack distribution. As noted by SDX Central’s Craig Matsumoto, this allows Mirantis to integrate its open platform with commercial Juniper installations more easily, particularly since the company is offering the entire suite in container form that can be managed under Kubernetes. It’s also a nod to the fact that, like Ceph on the storage side, many OpenStack users prefer to use Contrail as a plug-in to the environment, particularly as deployments scale beyond the means of Open vSwitch. Still unknown, however, is whether Mirantis will go as far as incorporating fully proprietary platforms like NSX or Cisco’s ACI.

Management and integration have long been the twin banes of open source networking solutions. Just because two systems support the same open framework does not mean they provide fully seamless operations. In the same vein, transferring traffic from an open to a proprietary environment involves all the same headaches as a typical mult-vendor network.

But as the open networking industry matures, the ability to mask all of these issues under layers of abstraction becomes easier, and it won’t be long before intelligent automation takes over the dull drudgery of network configuration and management anyway.

Ultimately, few enterprises will care what kind of platform supports their data and applications, as long as their services are functioning at appropriate quality levels.

Arthur Cole covers networking and the data center for Enterprise Networking Planet and IT Business Edge. He has served as editor of numerous publications covering everything from audio/video production and distribution, multimedia and the Internet to video gaming.

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