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Agility, SDN and Service Frameworks
It's that time in the SDN hype cycle where people are beginning to lay out a more solid vision of what it means to them

It's that time in the SDN hype cycle where people are beginning to lay out a more solid vision of what it means to them. Themes are beginning to emerge on the foundations laid by ONF that include the necessary separation of control and data (forwarding) planes, but some are still missing critical components - the ones that enable agility of the business, not just the network.

Juniper's Bob Muglia recently published a post called "Decoding SDN" that expounds upon Juniper's vision of SDN. It's a well written lengthy piece that's definitely worth a read if you not only want to understand Juniper's strategy but if you want to gain a bit more insight into how SDN is being approached.

One thing that jumped out at me was Bob's "Four Planes of Networking". Generally speaking it was an excellent distillation of the SDN concept. But something was missing, in my opinion. It did not adequately encapsulate the notion of how or where SDN enables one of its most important purported benefits: agility.

Let's review the basic definition of agility, shall we?

a·gil·i·ty

1.the power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness: exercises demanding agility.

A fairly nebulous definition and Bob's description of the four planes of networking certainly can be construed to fulfill the requirements of agility. After all, merely separating control from data (forwarding) plane combined with a standardized management plane enables a fair amount of agility in the network, certainly more than what existed before the concept of SDN began disrupting the entire networking community.

But agility isn't just about being able to rapidly change forwarding tables, it's about being able to respond to operational and business conditions. It's about being able to implement new functionality, if necessary, that enables innovative business ideas to be realized in the network, which almost always must deliver that business idea to customers, employees, or partners.

What I found missing from Bob's discussion was programmability of the network, that is, not just the ability to programmatically modify configuration, but to programmatically modify the behavior (and thus the delivery mechanisms) of the network.

Bob's diagram and explanation (shortened for brevity):

The Four Planes of Networking

Inside every networking and security device – every switch, router, and firewall - you can separate the software into four layers or planes.  As we move to SDN, these planes need to be clearly understood and cleanly separated.  This is absolutely essential in order to build the next generation, highly scalable network.

networkplanes.jpg
Forwarding.
The bottom plane, Forwarding, does the heavy lifting of sending the network packets on their way.


Control. If the Forwarding plane is the brawn of the network, Control is the brains.  The Control plane understands the network topology and makes the decisions on where the flow of network traffic should go.


Services. Sometimes network traffic requires more processing and for this, the Services plane does the job.  Not all networking devices have a Services plane – you won’t find this plane in a simple switch.  But for many routers and all firewalls, the Services plane does the deep thinking, performing the complex operations on networking data that cannot be accomplished by the Forwarding hardware.  Services are the place where firewalls stop the bad guys and parental controls are enforced.


Management. Like all computers, network devices need to be configured, or managed.  The Management plane provides the basic instructions of how the network device should interact with the rest of the network.

 

http://forums.juniper.net/t5/The-New-Network/Decoding-SDN/ba-p/174651

I hope Bob does not take it amiss if I modify and expand upon his network plane diagram.

First, I think management should not be portrayed as part of the network planes. It's not part of the network - not really - nor should it be. The separation of management from network plane as a matter of technical architecture and implementation is well-established as a best practice to ensure continued access to devices that have failed or are overwhelmed. I don't think Bob's intention was to imply the management plane was coupled to the network plane in such a manner, but diagrams using an east or west-bound management placement tend to disseminate the actual separation a bit better, so I've moved it off to the side and broadened it to ensure it covers not only control but services as well.

Which is the next layer I think needs some expansion.

A SERVICE FRAMEWORK

One of the core premises of SDN is the ability to programmatically extend the functionality of the "network" through plug-ins, add-ons, or applications - whatever you want to call them, they're the same thing - I'm going to refer to them as services as I think Bob took the right approach with the service nomenclature. But rather than use the all encompassing "services" I think we should view that layer as a service framework, upon which new services can be deployed - whether through plug-ins or a direct programmatic interface or through a less coupled API. However it occurs, a set of base network services are available in the framework that can be extended. That's where additional value is added, where new network functionality is deployed, and what makes it possible to use the same network "equipment" to deploy a variety of functions. The same "equipment" should be distilled down to a common set of networking services but be able to support firewall services on one, application acceleration on another, and load balancing on yet another.

This concept draws from the idea of a platform in the development world. Developers do not write their own network stacks, or even application-transport (HTTP) stacks. They develop functionality atop a common framework that enables them to modify behavior such that a highly secure, banking application can be deployed on the same common platform as a completely open picture sharing application. The platform is deployed, managed, configured and operated in the same way but the applications, ah, the applications have very different profiles.

The same concept must be applied to the network and to SDN-enabled solutions. It's not enough to provide separation of control and forwarding to enable agility. To enable true agility requires the inclusion of a services platform capable of extending functionality without introducing additional operational overhead into the core "stack".

There's a lot more in Bob's discussion, including an interesting view of "SDN Chaining" which I will not get into here because this is long enough that your coffee is likely cold by now. Suffice it to say it's an interesting read and I find valuable nuggets in his discussion and think such posts are necessary to start really figuring out where this SDN thing is going to go.

Read the original blog entry...

About Lori MacVittie
Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

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The IoT has the potential to transform the world, bringing new functions and efficiency to big problems such as disease, poverty, traffic, and government transparence. It also makes for a nice Christmas gift for “kids in science fair projects.” This latter point was made by Broadcom and Brian Bedrosian, the company's senior director for wireless connectivity. Specifically, the company has introduced its Wiced Sense Kit at a price of US$20. The kit—suitable for adult use, of course, as well--allows IoT developers and the millions of “makers” in the thriving Maker Movement to build sensors that communicate with iPhones, home communication hubs, and other devices. Suggested uses include baby monitors, door locks, and personal healthcare monitors. Broadcom's kit presumably competes with a US$25 kit from Texas Instruments, which also has Android and Bluetooth functionality.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is getting personal. Wearables, ingestables, even implantables – devices that not only help us with our fitness, but can monitor and manage disease and its treatment – are right around the corner. And where the IoT goes, money follows. In this case, Big Pharma smells opportunity. But while these new consumer doodads get all the press, health-related IoT technologies are only the tip of the iceberg for the Digital Transformation hitting the pharmaceutical industry, as it struggles with a turbulent business landscape. “There are very few blockbuster drugs,” explains Eric Pilkington, EVP Digital Strategy at McCann Health North America. “The pharma companies are trying to figure out what to do. The competitors are the generics: identical and cheaper. The pharmas have to provide value beyond the drug itself.”
Such devices and connected technologies exist today, and the sector is driving the leading edge of the Internet of Things under the label of the “Connected Home” or “Smart Home”. Fact is, some pretty traditional low-tech concepts are becoming technology-enabled, such as/including locking doors, turning on the lights, heating the home, etc. What this means is that technology companies are broadening into areas that have historically been outside of their business plans. Apple is in the fitness business. Google is in the heating business. Samsung is in the appliance business. Others include cable TV and Internet provider Comcast, and the Schlage-brand lock maker Ingersoll Rand.
When we talk about the impact of BYOD and BYOA and the Internet of Things, we often focus on the impact on data center architectures. That's because there will be an increasing need for authentication, for access control, for security, for application delivery as the number of potential endpoints (clients, devices, things) increases. That means scale in the data center. What we gloss over, what we skip, is that before any of these "things" ever makes a request to access an application it had to execute a DNS query. Every. Single. Thing.
Elasticity is hailed as one of the biggest benefits of cloud and software-defined architectures. It's more efficient than traditional scalability models that only went one direction: up. It's based on the premise that wasting money and resources all the time just to ensure capacity on a seasonal or periodic basis is not only unappealing, but unnecessary in the age of software-defined everything. The problem is that scaling down is much, much harder than scaling up. Oh, not from the perspective of automation and orchestration. That is, as the kids say these days, easy peasy lemon squeezy. APIs have made the ability to add and remove resources simplicity itself. There isn't a load balancing service available today without this capability - at least not one that's worth having.
As enterprises work to rapidly embrace the mobile revolution, both for their workforce and to engage more deeply with their customers, the pressure is on for IT to support the tools needed by their application developers. Mobile application developers are working with a massive variety of technologies and platforms, but one trend that stands out is the rapid adoption of NoSQL database engines and the use of Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) platforms and services to run them. Gartner has predicted that by 2017, 20% of enterprises will have their own internal mobile app store, meaning that enterprises are deploying both commercial and custom applications to their workforce at increasing speeds. There’s no denying the massive growth in mobile applications within the enterprise.
The Internet of Things is only going to make that even more challenging as businesses turn to new business models and services fueled by a converging digital-physical world. Applications, whether focused on licensing, provisioning, managing or storing data for these "things" will increase the already significant burden on IT as a whole. The inability to scale from an operational perspective is really what software-defined architectures are attempting to solve by operationalizing the network to shift the burden of provisioning and management from people to technology.
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