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Contrail: The Juniper SDN controller for virtual overlay network

Shamus McGillicuddy

Juniper Networks will launch a portfolio of software-defined networking products later this year under the brand name JunosV Contrail. The first Juniper SDN product -- available in the third quarter -- will be the Contrail Controller, which will initially provide centralized control for a virtual overlay network.

The Juniper SDN controller is based on technology Juniper acquired last year when it bought startup Contrail Systems. Today, JunosV Contrail Controller is an overlay network solution comparable to VMware NSX, Midokura MidoNet and Nuage Networks. The controller interacts with virtual switches on hypervisor hosts using Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) as its control plane protocol. Contrail Controller also uses Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) for control plane scaling across LANs and WANs.

"XMPP offers lower overhead and higher performance," said Joe Skorupa, vice president and distinguished analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "And they use BGP for federation across controllers."

The Contrail Controller doesn't support OpenFlow or any other protocols for direct control of network hardware, but Juniper didn't rule out future support. For now, Juniper is focusing on delivering a virtual overlay network.

"Most of the infrastructure that is out there today either doesn't have OpenFlow capabilities on it or will require some upgrade to get it, which means rip and replace," said Brad Brooks, Juniper vice president of marketing and strategy. "The protocols we're using with Contrail mean you can overlay software right on top of existing infrastructure and get benefits right away. It's not to say we won't support OpenFlow [in our controller]. If it becomes a de facto standard for how to communicate with the underlying physical network, then we can put that in support for the controller. But we're really looking at and focusing on standard protocols that already exist in physical networks today."

Juniper SDN eyes carriers and enterprises with scale, open APIs

Juniper Networks Inc. is angling JunosV Contrail at both carriers and enterprises, said Jennifer Lin, senior director of product management for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Juniper. Both are looking for "ways to drive better operational efficiency and ensure that the network is exposed as a service or set of services, and not just a siloed part of the infrastructure," she said.

To that end, Juniper is exposing a RESTful application programming interface (API), instantiating its own OpenStack Quantum plug-in, and announcing several partnerships geared toward integrating its SDN technology with leading cloud orchestration systems. It's partnering with Citrix on CloudStack integration and with Cloudscaling and Mirantis on OpenStack integration.

Contrail's scale-out control plane based on BGP will appeal to carriers, enterprises and cloud providers looking to federate controllers across the WAN.

"We're focused on how to get a scale-out control plane. … In this case, we're extending mature protocols like BGP, which run today's Internet, and linking together autonomous systems across IP networks," Lin said.

Juniper SDN will integrate overlay and underlay for diagnostics and analytics

Like other vendors who are enabling an SDN-like virtual overlay network, Juniper requires basic Layer 3 connectivity on the underlying physical network. Juniper hopes to differentiate itself from VMware and others by connecting the physical and virtual networks together.

"One difference between Juniper and VMware is that Juniper will link management of virtual and physical to enable debugging problems," Skorupa said. "Otherwise, figuring out if the [network] problem is in the overlay or the physical IP network is extremely difficult at best."

Juniper is working on bridging protocols like BGP and MPLS into its overlay network so JunosV Contrail can interact with Juniper's switches and routers to extract diagnostics and analytics from the physical network and combine it with the software overlay, Lin said. "We're able to correlate if something goes wrong in your pod," she said. "You have both the diagnostics of the virtual infrastructure as well as the physical underlay."

Integrating physical and overlay networks will be essential, according to Bob Laliberte, senior analyst with Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group.

"Just like you can't keep on provisioning virtual machines in physical servers without an understanding of what is going on (memory and CPU usage, etc.), these overlay networks need to understand what is going on in the physical infrastructure or underlay," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, news director.


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