SDN startup PLUMgrid offers OpenStack networking software suite

The PLUMgrid OpenStack Networking Suite enables a scalable, high-performance, encrypted cloud network overlay.

Network virtualization startup Plumgrid announced a software suite that provides a scalable, high-performance virtual network overlay for OpenStack cloud environments.

The PLUMgrid OpenStack Networking Suite is the first product based on the PLUMgrid Platform, a distributed network software architecture that consists of an orchestration and control component -- PLUMgrid Director -- and a multi-function programmable data plane called IO Visor.

Unlike data plane components of other software overlays, IO Visor has an external compiler that allows engineers to load new data plane functions without a reboot, including functions delivered by third-party software. This capability enhances the resiliency of OpenStack environments and allows data center operators to spin up new network functions without rebooting the overall network service.

The PLUMgrid OpenStack Networking Suite supports multiple distributions of OpenStack, but it is certified to work with Red Hat's distribution. PLUMgrid adds encryption, scalability and terabit performance to OpenStack networking, said Awais Nemat, CEO and co-founder of PLUMgrid.

"We've introduced encryption, whereby we provide provable isolation across virtual domains. All assets that belong to a virtual domain, as soon as that traffic leaves the hypervisor, [are] encrypted on a per-user, per-tenant and per-application basis," he said.

PLUMgrid has tested its OpenStack Networking Suite to scale to tens of thousands of workloads across multiple racks and across multiple geographies, he said. Also, the company has worked closely with silicon vendors to offload network processing to server network interface cards (NICs), enabling each server host running PLUMgrid IO Visor to perform at 40 gigabytes per second (Gbps) of total network throughput per server. And that throughput scales linearly, Nemat said.

"As you add more servers, the performance keeps going up," he said. "If you have a virtual domain that spans over 25 physical servers, each with 40 Gbps of throughput, then every virtual network function that lives in that virtual domain -- the switch, the router, NAT [Network address translation] -- scales out to terabits of performance."

The scalability and performance of PLUMgrid's OpenStack Networking Suite looks impressive in theory, said Christian Renaud, senior analyst with New York-based 451 Research. Generally, network overlays from many vendors are still unproven in large production environments. Engineers will have to wait and see how this software performs as customers push them to their theoretical limits, Renaud said.

"The question there is how well that scales out with lots and lots of users," he said. The encryption feature in particular will bear watching. "Within those virtual [PLUMgrid] domains, those are encrypted and now inter-domain traffic is encrypted as well. That begs the question: What if I have 500,000 sessions going east west. Is that going to cause the CPU to take a knee? It will be interesting to see what the scalability of these solutions are once they are in production."

OpenStack networking: Everyone wants a piece of it

Neutron, the OpenStack networking specification, is "still comparatively new and doesn't have enterprise-class features," Renaud said. PLUMgrid is just one of many vendors that are trying to enhance Neutron with their technology. Some of those vendors, like Cisco and HP, are large IT companies that are trying to tie multiple product lines to OpenStack.

Many networking vendors, both in hardware and software, are approaching OpenStack and have a platform where they can add a "secret sauce" for providing enterprise-class networking features, said Brad Casemore, research director for Framingham, Massachusetts-based IDC.

PLUMgrid's encryption capabilities are potentially very important to organizations that implement hybrid cloud environments, pushing data between public and private clouds, Casemore said.

"They've also got analytics and troubleshooting tools and what they call a hiteless software upgrade" Casemore said. "And the performance … terabit performance is a claim that I don't think anyone else has made."

Many cloud providers and data center operators who are interested in OpenStack are typically looking for an open, modular architecture that allows them to swap out hardware and software. PLUMgrid's status as a small, independent network software vendor might appeal to those companies, Renaud said.

"I think the larger vendors are going to have a tough time with [OpenStack networking] credibility," he said. Some organizations suspect that larger networking vendors view OpenStack as a way to get their equipment into a data center. "If I made that choice to go with OpenStack, why would I want to be beholden to one big vendor? If I do that, why not just go with [proprietary technologies from] VMware and Cisco?"

Swisscom adopts PLUMgrid OpenStack Networking, invests in the company

Swisscom, Switzerland's leading telecommunications provider, has adopted PLUMgrid's OpenStack Networking technology in the cloud environments for its IT services business. Swisscom worked closely with PLUMgrid in developing the suite, Nemat said.

Swisscom also joined a number of venture capital firms in PLUMgrid's $16 million Series B funding round, he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, news director, or follow him on Twitter @ShamusTT.

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