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Plexxi SDN enhanced with ToR switch and easier application affinity

Shamus McGillicuddy

Plexxi expanded its line of top-of-rack switches for its application affinity-based SDN architecture with a new switch designed for highly modular data center pods. The startup also enhanced the Plexxi SDN controller's ability to integrate the semantics of application workload requirements.

Plexxi SDN hardware extended with pod switches

Plexxi's first-generation switch was a top-of-rack device that interconnected via wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) fiber rings, which allowed Plexxi's controller to provision new capacity between switches as workloads demanded them.

The new Plexxi Pod Switch Interconnect (PSI) is a more traditional device that interconnects via Layer 2 and Layer 3. Plexxi designed the switch for data center operators that are building modular pods of server racks.

"A lot of the customers we work with are building very specific, pod-style data centers, meaning they [need] a very fixed form factor in terms of how they architect their data centers," said Mat Mathews, co-founder and vice president of product management for Nashua, N.H.-based Plexxi.

The PSI switch is a top-of-rack, 72-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch that ships pre-configured to mesh together into pods of six, 12 and 36 switches. The PSI switch interconnects via hub-and-spoke wiring rather than the fiber ring of the WDM interconnect.

"These new switches will provide attractive price points with simplified wiring architectures that should make installation and configuration easier," said Bob Laliberte, senior analyst with Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group.

Plexxi is offering the pre-configured pod switches to data center operators who want to deploy large pods of server racks simultaneously, rather than grow a Plexxi deployment one rack at a time, he said. "WDM rings are better suited for organizations looking to grow organically [basically a switch or a rack at a time] rather than a pod at a time."

Data Services Engine adds DIY application affinity

Plexxi also introduced the Data Services Engine, a framework for integrating its controller with any orchestration and management systems and infrastructure within a data center. Plexxi's controller has always featured an application affinity engine that could provision network connections for specific application workloads, but the Data Services Engine simplifies the process of integrating outside data sources into the controller's affinity model. Plexxi has offered an application programming interface (API) that customers could program to if they wanted to integrate infrastructure and systems into the controller, but that API requires deeper expertise. To help customers, Plexxi has also introduced one-off application affinity integrations with partners such as storage vendor SolidFire, 3D MEMS optical switch vendor Calient and DevOps management vendor Opscode.

"We've always had the ability to directly connect our controller to external information feeds to give us context about how workloads are organized and [to] help us understand what we call affinities," Mathews said. "With that information the controller figures out the ideal layout of the network fabric. With the Data Services Engine, we take that to the next level. Instead of going out to customers and saying, 'Hey, we've got REST-based APIs, go and write to them,' we've got this dynamic integration layer that looks like a message bus. It's very easy to take all the various data sources and have them point into the message bus," Mathews said.

"It's a framework built on Python, so now that you have access to all [the] different data for your orchestration layer and your different management tools, all that spindles into one place. You can craft your workflow using a high-level language like Python as a way to assemble that information in the right way."

Plexxi wants to "normalize data from various management systems and orchestrate between them, including adding capabilities to automate workflows," Laliberte said.


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