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FCW : December 2013
Welcome to the next IT transition. Agencies have cycled through server and desktop virtualization, mobile comput- ing and the cloud. Network infrastructure is next in line for a sweeping change, and it might be coming in the form of software-de ned networking. An SDN deployment creates a software layer that absorbs many of the complexities of managing a network. Propo- nents say the bene ts include greater exibility, lower costs and ease of management. The approach has a few drawbacks. The technology is in its infancy, reference installations are few and far between, and standards are still emerging. And then there is the poten- tial deal breaker: the price tag of pursuing a new networking architecture during a time of budget constraints. Nevertheless, some industry executives believe SDN s potential upside will eventually outweigh the drawbacks. What s more, the pressure to support key initiatives, such as cloud computing, with a more exible networking approach and the ability to save dollars down the road will compel agencies to pursue SDN. In the meantime, science-oriented networks in govern- ment and academia are exploring SDN. The Energy Depart- ment s Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) is evaluating the technology, and the National Science Foundation is funding SDN research at universities. "There are a lot of experiments going on where they are trying to gure out what works," said Bryan Lyles, program director in NSF s Division of Computer and Network Sys- tems. "But we are still early in the game." Why it matters The typical agency might not have an SDN upgrade in its immediate plans, but ongoing research could pave the way for eventual mainstream adoption. DOE s ESnet links scientists at national laboratories and other research groups. Inder Monga, chief technologist and area lead for network engineering, tools and research at ESnet, said science applications generate large data ows that are measured in petabytes. SDN provides the ability to direct those ows to the most ef cient network tier. It could move a large ow to the optical transport layer or route ows around packet bottlenecks, for example. "Data-intensive science work ows are heavy users of the network, especially due to the increasingly large datasets they are generating," Monga said. "By using SDN, we re trying to make sure we provide better predictability for these science applications." One of ESnet s SDN demonstration projects uses Open- Flow, an SDN-enabling communications protocol, to match science data ows to the optimal transport tier. Another project aims to stretch typically self-contained SDN deploy- ments to interact with the Internet. "In order to successfully deploy SDN, you cannot deploy it as an island," Monga said. But of cials have yet to integrate SDN into ESnet on a larger scale. When the network was upgraded to 100G technology in 2012, SDN was not suf ciently mature to play a major role. However, of cials will keep looking for situ- ations where SDN, in its current form, provides a good t. "We are very much interested in exploring and introducing SDN opportunistically," Monga said. "I am excited about the potential of SDN, and we re using these demonstrations to see what it can possibly do. But we are clearly still explor- ing what s possible." Meanwhile, the NSF-backed Global Environment for Net- work Innovations initiative supports research and educa- tion in areas including SDN. Indeed, several universities are eld testing the technology under the auspices of GENI. In addition, NSF awarded more than $20 million last year to 34 campus networking projects under its Campus Cyberinfrastructure-Network Infrastructure and Engineer- ing program. One activity involves transitioning SDN pro- Agencies eye the possibilities of SDN BY JOHN MOORE Software-de ned networking is still in its infancy, but science-oriented networks already see the potential 28 December 2013 FCW.COM ExecTe c h
November 30, 2013