Addressing SDN’s Service Management Limitations

In his recent blog post titled “Brocade’s Step Toward SDN’s Future: A Good Start,” Tom Nolle of CIMI Corporation praises Brocade’s recent announcements on its Flow Manager and Topology Manager products. However, he highlights a gap in Brocade’s offerings illustrative of a weakness with SDN technology across the industry.

In the post, Nolle describes a 3-tier architecture he hypothesized in the early days of SDN and is still relevant today:

“On the bottom was the topologizer, an element responsible for determining what the physical device and trunk structure of the network was. In the middle was what I called SDN central, the critical piece that aligned flows and topology. The top layer was what I called the “cloudifier”, a layer that would frame SDN’s almost infinitely variable connectivity options into services that could really be consumed.”

He also states that these layers sit above the northbound interface of the SDN controller. He sees Brocade’s Flow Manager and Topology Manager corresponding to his topologizer and SDN central. It’s the cloudifier layer that shows “just how far SDN still has to go” as Nolle puts it. He says: “The first thing you have to do to get SDN out of the data center is to automate operations and management.”

According to Nolle, Brocade needs to automate service management (his cloudifier) and hence needs to associate physical device and trunk conditions to connectivity of these services. Brocade requires a “service layer that converts application/user requests for cohesive network behaviors into a series of flows that can map to the real device topology.”

At Packet Design we share his view of a 3-tier architecture and believe there is a need for a third SDN analytics and automation layer (the “cloudifier”). The Packet Design SDN Platform, being launched later this year, effectively is this layer. It consists of service-aware topology, traffic and performance models, policy, optimization, predictive analytics and orchestration modules, along with open, RESTful APIs for application development.

With all these capabilities, our platform provides the service-aware view Nolle describes. For each of the services, it determines the end-points into the wide area network, the paths taken inside the network, whether any congested links are encountered, and what the delay, loss and jitter are for these paths. The orchestration component can reroute some of these service paths when performance requirements are not met; optimization algorithms proactively set up paths to avoid performance problems in the first place.

We believe the Packet Design platform is well positioned to provide the service management layer Nolle describes. It complements data center solutions by extending SDN from the data center into the wide area network and back into another data center… or into an enterprise site…or to a cloud user. In other words, it becomes a key component of an end-to-end SDN solution.