Growing from a four-person start-up to a cloud provider with more than 300,000 customers and hosting 1.2 million domains requires significant technological transformations. DreamHost, a Brea, Calif.,-based cloud provider has always relied on a traditional, hardware-centric networking model but its growth is forcing a shift to a software-defined network.
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DreamHost started in 1997 as a web-hosting company with services that included virtual private servers, dedicated-server hosting and domain-name registration via a data center with 1,500 servers. Recently, DreamHost has begun developing public-cloud services for its customers.
While planning these new services, DreamHost determined that it would need a software-defined network in order to offer customers more flexible and secure multi-tenant cloud.
"We realized that one of the most limiting parts of public clouds out there now [is] its networking model," said Jonathan LaCour, DreamHost's vice president of software development. "The physical network is fairly brittle. It doesn't offer isolation or allow for some of the more interesting enterprise capabilities and security models that we wanted to be able to offer for our customers."
Building a software-defined network with Nicira
DreamHost selected Nicira, a network-virtualization company, for the creation of its software-defined network. While evaluating software-defined network technologies, DreamHost decided Nicira's software Network Virtualization Platform would be best suited to reduce costs and accelerate service delivery to their customers.
Nicira is a startup that uses software-defined network technology to decouple the control plane and the data plane of a physical network in order to achieve network virtualization. It creates a virtual network within the software layer that exists between a physical network and the server infrastructure.
Nicira's involvement and contributions to the OpenStack platform helped sway DreamHost, said LaCour, noting that DreamHost uses the OpenStack platform in its data centers.
"There are other virtual-network platforms out there, but none are nearly as far along or proven as Nicira," LaCour said. "The fact that [Nicira] has been around long enough to have proven technology, and the fact they are contributing to OpenStack, really added up to make it a logical choice for us."
DreamHost's existing physical network supports and powers the provider's current products and services, but the network is tightly coupled to the hardware, LaCour noted. "Right now, we have the traditional switching fabric in our network," he said.
The implementation of Nicira's Network Virtualization Platform will be going live later this year, and DreamHost plans on putting the software-defined network into production when its public cloud offering is rolled out. The cloud provider will begin a private alpha test for the Nicira Network Virtualization Platform, followed by a beta period in which a group of customers will be invited to test the services.
More on software-defined network technology and network virtualization:
OpenFlow hype and the software-defined network
Cisco hiring software-defined network talent
Embrane eases virtualized network services
Preparing for data center network virtualization
Nicira Network Virtualization Platform offers greater security, flexibility
The early days following implementation will be about solving problems related to security and providing isolation for customers, LaCour noted.
"We are starting with security because that is the most common issue [users] complain about regarding the network model of other providers," he said.
Software-defined network capabilities will provide DreamHost with the flexibility to build on top of the Nicira Network Virtualization Platform, and the cloud provider has plans to push out other capabilities that their customers will be able to use on their applications, aside from security and isolation.
"In talking to potential and current customers, we frequently hear them mention a lot of services that they would like to see that are enabled by virtual networking, and as we go forward, we actually will be able to produce offerings around network virtualization," LaCour said.
The Nicira Network Virtualization Platform will support future offerings for DreamHost because the platform integrates closely with OpenStack, noted LaCour. And decoupling from the hardware will enable DreamHost to build in new services into the software without having to worry about investment in new hardware.
"As features are added to [the Network Virtualization Platform] and as we add new features on top [of the platform]," LaCour said, "we will have the freedom and agility on a software level that we really want, rather than having to roll our own out at a lower level of the virtual network space itself."
DreamHost has received positive feedback from current customers regarding the move to a software-defined network, and they are already requesting to become early adopters of the technology during the beta testing period, noted LaCour.
"By selecting the Nicira Network Virtualization Platform, we should be able to take some of that technology, once we've deployed it across our cloud, and deploy it and apply it back to our core business as well," he said. "We are going to have a much simpler, flexible backbone for our network, and this is going to be a big step for us."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, News Writer.