Dive into the software-defined network ocean with OpenStack

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By John M. Tracey and Ramesh Menon

One area where the cloud can be particularly useful is in simplifying the traditionally onerous process of provisioning and configuring network infrastructure and services. Many people wonder though how they can begin to utilize the cloud for networking. In this post, we describe an easy way to get started with a software-defined network (SDN) using OpenStack.

Businesses want all the benefits of the existing cloud infrastructure—agility, openness and elasticity—without any constraints. They need the speed of bare metal servers, dynamic provisioning capabilities, high data integrity, fast data recovery and instant multitenant scaling without boundaries.

High user expectations also require new levels of visibility and control to instantly fix latency and broken applications. Clients need new ways to manage capital expenditure and operational cost and maximize returns on invested capital. One area where these needs are particularly acute is the network. This has led to a flurry of development of new network capabilities across cloud providers.

SDN diagram

OpenStack Neutron provides a network application programming interface (API) that defines a rich set of constructs and operations for the cloud. One benefit of Neutron is that, while it defines the API, it allows the implementation to be provided by a separate plug-in. This allows OpenStack users to benefit from open standard interfaces while availing themselves of industry-leading implementations, without any vendor lock-in.

For example, many OpenStack users employ the Open vSwitch Neutron plug-in for a purely open source implementation. Enterprise users may be more inclined to utilize a commercial implementation such the IBM SDN for Virtual Environments (SDN VE). This particular product offers the benefit of integrating with both OpenStack and VMware.

One key benefit of the Neutron plug-in approach is that users of one plug-in do not need to learn anything new when they utilize another. So you can start with Open vSwitch, which is available at no charge, and transfer your knowledge from that experience if you decide to move to a commercial implementation such as SDN VE.

You can use an SDN to create secure cloud enclaves and dynamic networks to enhance your cyber security posture and overall system assurance levels. As the technology continues to evolve, IBM and other cloud providers will likely have innovative SDN capabilities to take cloud computing to next level.

We invite you to share your thoughts on OpenStack networking, particularly if you have questions or experience using one or more Neutron plug-ins. Please continue the discussion below or reach us on Twitter @RMenon_CTO and @JMTracey

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