Netsocket, a company best known as a service assurance vendor that specializes in unified communications application performance, has introduced an end-to-end SDN software product line for data center, campus and branch networking.
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The Netsocket Virtual Network software bears some resemblance to the Network Functions Virtualization initiative promulgated by the network service provider industry. Netsocket claims its software can perform nearly all Layer 3 through Layer 7 network functions and services while running on standard servers. Customers would only need to use commodity Layer 2 switches for physical connectivity.
However, customers can also deploy Netsocket technology as a controller-based SDN overlay network. Given that the controller understands Layer 2 and Layer 3 network protocols, customers can integrate their Netsocket-based virtual networks with the traditional network environment via the controller.
The software gives network engineers the option of deploying SDN in a broad variety of ways, which is important in these early days, said Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp.
"SDN literacy in the market today is in the single digits, and people are still groping with what the value proposition would be," Nolle said. "If you put a product out in a situation like that, then agility has its benefits because it might turn out that the value proposition isn't what you thought it would be."
Microsoft-centric SDN and network virtualization
Netsocket's SDN technology is aligned tightly with Microsoft and its products will initially work only on the Windows Hyper-V platform. Netsocket's existing service assurance platform was certified for the Lync platform, so the continued alignment with Microsoft makes sense.
"Microsoft [is] walking us into the largest Tier 1 carriers in the world. We have a lot of credibility with those customers, and that's just going to carry us to other enterprise customers," said John White, Netsocket CEO.
A virtual switch (vFlowSwitch) and controller (vFlowController) form the core of the Netsocket platform. The two components communicate through the company's proprietary vFlow southbound protocol, although Netsocket plans to support OpenFlow, too.
"We can [use] vFlow or OpenFlow, but OpenFlow is not yet robust, so we're using vFlow today," White said.
The vFlowController has routing, firewall and tunneling functions written directly into it.
"We have the ability to put routing protocols [in the router] so it can become part of or an adjunct of legacy networks and give you an organic growth path inside the enterprise," White said. "We also have vFirewall for security and vTunnel, which enables you [to] provide tunneling for your applications across the network so you don't have to rely on an expensive MPLS [Multiprotocol Label Switching] environment. We communicate with legacy networks with OSPF [Open Shortest Path First], BGP [Border Gateway Protocol] and IS-IS [Intermediate System to Intermediate System]. This is traditional networking that we feel can be commoditized and done in software on x86 platforms."
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Netsocket layers a number of plug-ins and services on top of vNetController through an open, northbound application programming interface it calls vSocket. The first application is vNetCommander, a management application that allows customers to configure software-based networks rapidly. The company is also shipping OpenStack and Microsoft System Center plug-ins for vSocket.
NetSocket is making vFlowSwitch, vFlowController and a single site version of vNetCommander available for free. It will charge for the multi-site version of its management application as well as for other products and services higher up the SDN stack.
Connecting the overlay and underlay networks
Netsocket is using its heritage as a service assurance vendor to tie network operations for its controller-based network virtualization platform to the underlying physical infrastructure for better management and troubleshooting.
The company's forthcoming vNetOptimizer will be a virtualized version of its service assurance platform that can understand quality of service and quality of experience within the physical and virtual network.
"Netsocket has offered a feasible model for how you would integrate the traffic-level experience [of physical infrastructure] with the service-level experience [of the overlay]," Nolle said. "They are creating some potential to bind the two layers together without requiring something like OpenFlow to control them both."
Rare end-to-end SDN solution: Data center, campus and branch
Netsocket is one of the first companies to come to market with an SDN product that attacks the data center, campus and WAN.
The product is technologically elegant, but "the question remains of how well this scales … particularly out to the branch," said Brad Casemore, research director for Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.
"Is this the type of technology that a lot of companies will be comfortable with at the branch? And how much control can you have from the branch to the data center? If it can be automated and managed remotely and not be problematic, I think it has a better chance. But the more resources required out of the branch and it's going to be a tougher road for them. As they talk more about early adopters, these questions will be answered," Casemore said.