Dell SDN strategy update: Infrastructure controller in the works

Dell is developing an infrastructure controller that goes beyond SDN to deliver control of storage, servers and networks.

As a wave of SDN hype continues to wash over the networking industry, many large networking companies are responding aggressively with a variety of new technologies and architectures. Dell Networking has been relatively quiet on the subject since announcing in March it was enlisting the Object Management Group to develop broad architectural standards for SDN.

Behind the scenes, Dell is building its own infrastructure controller. Arpit Joshipura, vice president of product management at Dell Networking, revealed the controller will be built to run more than the packet forwarding network. It will run the entire data center technology stack. Find out more in this Q&A with Joshipura about the Dell SDN approach.

What is the status of the Dell SDN strategy?

Aprit Joshipura: The market is fragmented right now. There are two paths to interoperability [in SDN]: the open source path and the open standards path. We have made progress not just on the data plane, but also on the control plane where we are extending the controller -- our own infrastructure controller -- which is made to stitch all the data center infrastructure products together, not just networking. So it's not SDN. It's really SDE, or a software-defined enterprise controller.

More importantly on the [northbound interface] side, OpenDaylight is making progress. And OpenContrail has come in. Now you have two open controllers available. On the open standards side you have a [Northbound Interface Working Group] in ONF [Open Networking Foundation] going after northbound as well. In an already fragmented market, even the standardization arm of SDN is fragmented.

Our strategy is to be transparent to these things and allow our customers to interoperate with whatever path they choose. But the bottom line is we are shipping the S600 switch [which is OpenFlow and VXLAN ready] while others are just announcing. And we feel good being ahead.

Are you shipping this infrastructure controller you just mentioned?

Joshipura: No, the infrastructure controller is not yet shipping because it requires plug-ins from open source and open standards, which are not done yet, other than OpenFlow on the southbound side.

But in general, Dell believes it's not about network controllers. It's about an infrastructure controller. Over the next three to six months we will give you more details about that, as standards mature and OpenDaylight comes out and ONF subcommittees [make progress]. All these guys are working toward getting the northbound API [application programming interface] integrated. The industry is not ready [for our controller] yet.

Is the Dell infrastructure controller something an OpenFlow controller would plug into?

Joshipura: It's a combination of an OpenFlow controller, but it's not just for networks. It has security services. For example, [in] the demo we showed at the ONS [Open Networking Summit] this year, we had SonicWall security services that we were able to chain into the network switches. That allows you to stitch a network service with a Layer 2, Layer 3 service. We can do that, but the challenge is that northbound APIs are not standardized yet.

You see these REST APIs. They are all REST, but which ones? And they are still being worked on by multiple open source guys and multiple open standards bodies. We, as an industry, are still fragmented and we want to make sure Dell is the first one that hides that fragmentation from customers.

The infrastructure controller would control the whole stack, from network to storage to compute?

Joshipura: That's correct. And it's an OpenStack kind of environment and Layer 4 to 7 services. But this is more at the data center infrastructure layer. Servers, storage, compute, network appliances, network services, security appliances -- all of these things are provisioned today. You have to provision it. It's a bump in the wire that you connect. You connect the port, assign a VLAN and assign an IP address. We need to move from a provisioned environment to a programmed one, which means an OpenStack-type application that can come in and say, 'I need your network to be stitched together this way because I'm going to have so many VMs [virtual machines] fired up.' That agility automatically happens through the help of an infrastructure controller. It does have an SDN controller, but it also has policy engines, fabric management, infrastructure management and a connection abstraction.

And this controller will not only programmatically provision the data plane of the network but also storage and compute resources?

Joshipura: It will start with the virtual switches and the physical switches because [they are] on the server LAN now. And then security services. So instead of being a bump in the wire, it will be programmed where the same policies can be applied for secure traffic as opposed to just straight, separate security and networking.

There is a lot of integrated management, control and orchestration that needs to happen in the data center. But the key here is it has got to be open on the top and bottom. The top part, northbound, [is] still fragmented. I want to make sure my connection abstraction layer hides the complexity of each of these translations.

What's the status of your SDN work with the Object Management Group?

Joshipura: They've put an RFP out and a request for comments. There is participation from people from each of the standards bodies and open source projects.  I believe things need to come together. We're at a point that there will be pieces of the puzzle that will be solved by these individual bodies. So a portion of the provisioning and infrastructure management APIs [application programming interfaces] might come from the OMG [Object Management Group]. Some might come from the ONF. Some might come from open source. It's going to be like this for the next two to three years, where the pieces come from different places. Whoever has the ability to stitch them together quickly and properly -- customers don't care where it comes from. They're just looking for great agility in the network.

Next Steps

Dell's view on SDN and network automation

Dell: Deploy infrastructure now, worry about SDN when it matures

Dig deeper on SDN control plane

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