Key to the success of a software defined network is the ability of its various components to communicate with each other. As part of the open source OpenDaylight Project, SDN startup Plexxi is improving communications between applications and their network, resulting in a more seamless and harmoniously orchestrated network. I recently spoke with Michael Bushong, Juniper veteran, sometime Enterprise Networking Planet guest contributor, and Plexxi VP of marketing, about Plexxi's contribution to the OpenDaylight Project.
Standardization of network application communications
Plexxi views networking as the enabling of "conversations" within the network: communications between IT components, driving network behavior. Those communications include the accessing of data, the exchange of information, or the one-way transmission of data or video. What they have in common is that their behavior both affects, and is affected by, the network. Some communications consume a large amount of bandwidth, for example; others are particularly sensitive to packet loss or latency.
"What we want to do is have a way of describing what's important about the individual conversations and then have a means of transmitting that into specific network behavior. What we need is a common conversation description language, a common semantic that all vendors can use, that expresses each application's requirements in a vendor-agnostic way," Bushong said. Plexxi's Affinity solution, and the Affinity Metadata Service open source code submitted to OpenDaylight, provide a way for network applications to express their workload requirements across silos.
Plexxi's solution doesn't just allow conversation requirements to cross different IT silos. It also allows non-networking people to effectively manage the applications and their behavior in concert with the network as a whole, since it expresses those requirements not in networking terms, but in application terms that administrators can understand.
Bushong gave me several use cases. In the first, he posited a large healthcare network that wants an application to share medical records. The network will need to maintain HIPAA compliance. Plexxi's contribution to OpenDaylight will help enable that. "Once you flag a conversation as HIPAA-compliant, the underlying network should be able to isolate the traffic, maintain strict auditing rules, and so on. The users themselves won't need to manually manage all of the networking tasks required to deliver HIPAA compliance," he said.
As another example, Bushong mentioned the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Council standards, by which merchants accepting credit cards must abide. "I don't want to translate PCI into the 32,000 knobs required to make PCI work. I just want to tell the networking guys that this needs to be PCI-compliant and have that be translated into the system-level device behavior that needs to happen," he said.
OpenDaylight has approved Plexxi's Affinity Metadata Service. It is slated for a December release.
What's next for Plexxi and SDN
The next step towards broad SDN deployment, Bushong told me, must involve enabling orchestration within the heterogenous, multi-vendor networks common within the enterprise. "There's a whole problem to be solved around service chaining," he said. Solving that will require a common semantic across the industry to communicate the high-level requirements of applications and translate them into path attributes and traffic capabilities within the network.
This standardization will help ease the path for future SDN deployments. "If you have to express what your infrastructure requires in slightly different terms on a per-application basis, it's difficult to deploy anything en masse, because that would require re-integration of every component," Bushong said. A common language for all communications within the network would go a long way towards solving that problem.
Jude Chao is executive editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.