Network flow control startup Saisei will offer its software through the HP SDN app store, giving engineers expanded visibility into the flows that run across their networks, and the ability to optimize links.
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Saisei calls itself a network performance enforcement company. Its software, which runs on off-the-shelf x86 servers, combines Intel's Data Plane Development Kit with a handful of patents from DARPANET pioneer Larry Roberts to inspect and control link utilization on a per-flow basis. This visibility and control allows network engineers to enforce flow-based policies, increase overall link utilization and stop reserving bandwidth for peak traffic loads.
"If you are a Google, Microsoft, Amazon, AT&T, Morgan Stanley or Barclays, where you have lots and lots of flows and very expensive links, you can increase utilization [of those links] from 65% to 95%," said Joe Skorupa, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
Mainstream enterprises that experience bursty traffic rather than lots of sustained, high-bandwidth flows will find less value in such a technology, Skorupa said. Still, the software offers attractive use cases to service providers and big enterprise, he added.
Network flow control prevents TCP-IP queuing problems
Saisei works around the queuing properties of TCP-IP by analyzing and manipulating flows rather than packets, examining 40 different Layer 2-7 metrics to identify flows and apply policy. The software carves up and allocates bandwidth to every flow on the pipe, making sure no sessions time-out or restart.
"We monitor all the traffic in real time, bi-directionally from a single place," said Jeff Paine, Saisei's vice president of marketing and business development. "We can -- on a 10 Gbps link -- actually look at, monitor and control five million concurrent flows. We can monitor and adjust every one of those flows 20 times per second as it transits our box. We have uniquely eliminated the requirement for queuing."
The software also applies policies to give some flows priority and it can slow down flows when needed.
"We can have a policy that says no data shall go to or from China because we have a data exfiltration policy in place," Paine said. "If a packet is headed there, we can block it, divert it, or slow it down to 56 Kbps and send an alert to figure out whether you want to let it through or not."
"The whole point of being able to do flow management is that you need something that identifies traffic effectively and also puts control in place," said Eric Hanselman, chief analyst for 451 Research. "There are other ways to do that. We've had all the various traffic enforcement mechanisms and Web filtering mechanisms, all these things that tackled pieces of it. [Saisei] is looking to address a slightly bigger picture. They are figuring out how to manage traffic that's important; how to make sure you don't have individual users and applications that are mis-prioritizing the traffic capacity on your network.
Saisei expands flow visibility of HP SDN controller
Saisei is making its product, FlowCommand, available as a 60-day free trial download on HP's SDN app store. Via initial integration with HP, FlowCommand will publish information on all the flows it discovers on the network to HP's OpenFlow controller, Paine said. Subsequent integration will allow the controller to take action on those newly discovered flows.
"Natively, SDN is designed to set up links to servers, switch ports and things of that nature, the standard five-tuple view of what's going on in the network," Paine said. "It does not have full visibility into everything that is actually going on. For example, when we ran our product in the HP SDN environment, we saw the controller did what every SDN controller should do -- pick up the main flows. In our lab environment, [the controller] found about six flows that were on the network. When you add our software to the mix, we actually discovered an additional 150 to 175 flows. Some are micro-flows that don't last very long. Some are different kinds of things that SDN is not architected to pick up."
With the initial HP controller integration, network managers have a single place to drill down into flows to identify problems. Later, Saisei hopes further integration will enable users to implement policy via flow changes on the HP controller.
"People always ask us what are the amazing, incredible applications that SDN is going to enable. Our honest answer is, we don't know," Gartner's Skorupa said. "This [integration] is another indication of the power of the work HP has done in getting its app store up and the power of its northbound APIs where people can innovate in interesting ways."