“OpenFlow will future proof enterprise networks”

Sanjay Jotshi, Director, HP Networking, HP India, demystified OpenFlow networking in a conversation with Jasmine Desai

What is HP doing to spread awareness of OpenFlow in the Indian market?
OpenFlow is part of a global initiative of Software Defined Networks (SDN). A typical piece of networking equipment has two components from a technology standpoint. One is the control path that controls the decision making of that box. The other is a packet forwarding path. There is a data packet that comes into the product from one port and that data packet is examined and the decision is taken by the control path to either drop it, forward it to some other port or to repackage and then forward the same. Another component is the data path. Most vendors in the industry have their control and data forwarding paths in the same product. What OpenFlow does is that it centralizes the control path, so that there is a OpenFlow Controller that takes all decisions and, once the decision is taken for any particular packet, then that change is updated on the product itself.

There are three major motivations to adopt OpenFlow. The first is cost. The cost of the product depends on the quantum of data flow through the product. If you reduce the data flow through the box’s controller, the cost is reduced substantially. Although there has been a lot of advancement on the controller side as well as on the storage or infrastructure side, one does not see many innovations on the protocol side of the network. One of the reasons for this is that all networks currently work on the production side and one cannot do a lot of experimentation there as it is a mission-critical environment. Therefore, the second motivation for OpenFlow is that you can draw a box in the production network that, while being in the network, can still run different sets of protocols.

The third motivation will be to make it open. It takes management logic on one side and translates it into network logic on the other. In this way, the translation happens and it becomes open. Consider the case of user A who is to be given access to publications 1,2 and 3 and who should not be given access to other things—this is a management decision, which goes to the OpenFlow controller where it is translated into networking logic. The standard will be open and virtual and one is not required to have any logic on the infrastructure. OpenFlow allows innovation to be done in the networking industry and allows it to be tested in a production environment.

Why is it important?
Globally, all businesses are run in data centers. Therefore, any sort of transaction happening online is supported by a back-end infrastructure that resides in a data center. Also, there is lot of consolidation happening across data centers. Earlier, data centers were spread geographically. Now they are being consolidated as a result of which mega data centers are being created. Another side of it is Cloud computing and virtualization that have led to an increase in the number of data centers. Any customer deploying a data center today with products that do not support OpenFlow will have to rip and replace the infrastructure 10-15 years down the line. However, if a vendor has the OpenFlow feature in his product, then the existing infrastructure will easily migrate to OpenFlow. HP’s virtual networking platform supports OpenFlow. If customers go to our Web site and download OpenFlow software, they will be able to upgrade their equipment to support it.

What sort of vendor collaboration is happening here. If someone is on a non- HP network, how can they go about adopting OpenFlow?
If a customer is on a XYZ network, that particular product should support OpenFlow. If it does not, then the customer will have to get completely different equipment. Other vendors are also part of the Open Networking forum. However, there are some vendors that have not taken any concrete steps about deploying this technology on their products. We are collaborating with vendors across industry as well as academic institutes to further develop the technology. All major vendors are part of the Open Networking Forum, whether it is IBM, Juniper Networks, NEC, Brocade or Cisco.  

What sort of market do you see for this in India, especially since it will require a lot of mindset change?
The Indian market is showing lot of interest in Cloud computing and data center consolidation. Wherever there is interest in these two, there will be adoption of OpenFlow. In India, academic institutions that are into research in a big way will probably be the early adopters of this technology. Eventually, it will trickle down to other verticals as well. Steps are being taken to bring about greater awareness of this technology. Also, like with any new technology, there are a few early adopters that are being observed by others. Once it is seen that it is a robust technology and confidence develops around it, then there will be widespread adoption.

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