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January 30, 2013

OpenFlow Tests Hold Promise of Extending the Open Standard to the Optical Layer

Virtualization in the enterprise environment has been progressive. It started with resource virtualization to deliver economic savings through scalability and redundancy in data centers. This resulted in higher availability, greater infrastructure flexibility and better workload balancing. When you look at the virtualization front, servers and storage are pretty much a done deal. The next frontier for virtualization is the network and this is where OpenFlow comes into the picture.

OpenFlow has emerged as one of the most popular SDN protocols because of the substantial cost savings and performance benefits that it can deliver. SDN-based virtualization has a wide range of applications for enterprises, with particular interest coming from Web 2.0 and national research and education network (NREN) operators.

OpenFlow automates and streamlines operations substantially by breaking up the monolithically integrated control and forwarding standards that exist in today’s packet switches. Unfortunately, for network staffs that desperately need to simplify operations, possibly create virtual machines and enable the reservation of enterprise computing, networking and storage resources in one stroke, OpenFlow is limited and does not go beyond interconnections of data centers that comprise of optical transport technology.

In order to solve this problem, OpenFlow can be extended to the optical layer, essentially extending SDN across multiple network layers, but some optical-specific concerns need to be addressed. A collaborative project called OFELIA is currently being used as a test bed to experiment with SDN applications and virtual multi-layer networks. The idea is to implement a dynamic control of wavelength-switched optical networks via OpenFlow. To meet specific application requirements, bandwidth, latency and power consumption can be adjusted.

In order for OpenFlow to control the optical domain, it was necessary to adapt it to the optical world by introducing strict switching constraints in regards to wavelength, continuity and optical impairments among other things. For SDN-enabled virtualization across all layers of their infrastructures, the OFELIA test bed additions to OpenFlow provide a bridge between the optical layer and the packet layer and allow integration into a cloud operating system, such as OpenStack.

This bridge holds a great promise for enterprise networks and could become the foundation to one day manage the optical domain the same way we manage Ethernet boxes today. That would be a significant breakthrough to today’s fragmented systems that have limited scalability and configuration complexities.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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