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While several vendors have incorporated portions of OpenDaylight code into their SDN products, the Brocade Vyatta controller is the only one that is 100% open source.
"When you look at other [vendor-supported] open source initiatives, what the vendor puts in open source isn't all the goodies," said Clifford Grossner, directing analyst at Infonetics Research. "They keep some proprietary elements to themselves. Brocade is saying if you want to use OpenDaylight, download it and implement it and take care of the problems on your own with maintaining and debugging it -- or get [that same open source] controller from Brocade, which is commercialized and comes with support. Brocade is following Red Hat's tried and true formula [with Linux]."
Brocade's SDN strategy is initially focused on network service providers. It has adapted its Vyatta virtual routing platform into a Layer 4-7 network services platform for the support of network functions virtualization. "Their first target [with this controller] is service providers," Grossner said. "Ultimately I believe there may be a packaging of this for enterprises."
The open source approach of the Brocade Vyatta controller gives network operators "directional control" over SDN technology, said Kelly Herrell, vice president and general manager of software networking at Brocade. Network architects can tell Brocade what features and functionality they want in the controller. Brocade will implement those changes and contribute them to the open source version of OpenDaylight, ensuring that network operators avoid vendor lock-in. The software they use, though commercially supported, will almost always be open source.
Brocade's job will be to "manage the tension" between the controller they offer to customers and the pure open source version that OpenDaylight is continuously evolving, Herrell said.
"This is what Red Hat does all day long in the Linux environment," he said. "Customers might demand something and Red Hat can give it to them. But the [open source community] might not take it. And sometimes there is a delay in when the project takes it. It's the vendor's job to manage that tension and delay for the customer. Other times the customer might ask for something, and we can respond with insight that -- based on where the community is heading -- might be difficult to bring back [into the open source controller]. So we can give guidance on other ways to achieve their objectives."
Like the open source controller, the Brocade Vyatta controller is a highly modular architecture that can control and manage most vendors' networking devices through a variety of protocols and API. It supports multiple southbound interfaces, including OpenFlow and Netconf. OpenDaylight's northbound APIs will also enable engineers to adopt various SDN applications and integrate with orchestration platforms like OpenStack.
Brocade Vyatta controller opens the door to new SDN apps
Brocade will offer its own SDN applications with the Vyatta controller, too. When the controller ships this November, it will offer a Path Explorer application, which can provide topology awareness and path optimization.
"To do path exploration in a normal network with a distributed control plane is really hard work," said Peter Christy, research director at 451 Research. "When people first talked about OpenFlow's value, the number one value for me was the ability to tell me the topology of the network."
Brocade will ship a second application in early 2015, the Volumetric Traffic Management application, which can provide distributed denial of service protection and elephant flow management, Herrell said.
The ability to handle elephant flows has been a major topic in the SDN world lately. "Networks do a great job of handling small [mice] flows," Christy said. "The problem in conventional network is if you don't catch and redirect big [elephant] flows quickly, they can cause congestion on a path that spills over and affects the rest of the network."
The next step for Brocade will be to advance the strategic integration of the Vyatta OpenDaylight controller with the Vyatta virtual router and the technology partner ecosystem that could develop on top of that. Brocade previously announced integration of the virtual router with OpenDaylight via NetConf and Yang modeling.
"They've talked about Vyatta [virtual router] as an extensible platform all the way up to Layer 7 services," said Brad Casemore, research director for IDC. "Now they need to articulate directly where they see an ecosystem emerging for this platform. Brocade is embracing OpenDaylight for the basic SDN controller function, but there is a significant services layer that the Vyatta router brings beyond that. The SDN discussion has mostly been about Layer 2 and 3. Layer 4-7 has only recently been talked about and it's an opportunity for commercialization of firewalls, VPN services, WAN optimization. The Vyatta technology is a potential secret sauce here."
The Brocade Vyatta controller will be commercially available in November. Brocade will offer a per-copy, term license that includes support and upgrades. Network operators will be able to install the controller on bare-metal server or as a virtual machine on a hypervisor.
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