OpenFlow and Enterprise Networks Explained

In deploying converged infrastructure solutions, it is important to choose architectures that support open standards and heterogeneous environments. As virtualization and cloud computing continue to proliferate, you need to have as much flexibility as possible in building your data centers to keep costs down and enable simple scalability. You also want to be able take advantage of future technology innovations that could help you in driving future business services and applications.

In networking, an open standards approach is clearly the wave of the future. The advance of software-defined networks (SDN) is a major paradigm shift for a segment of the industry that has largely been defined by proprietary platforms over the past several decades. The next generation of network equipment for cloud environments will likely be far more interoperable than previous generations, giving organizations more choice in vendors and solutions.

Software-defined networks provide a new approach to network management and deployment in which the network control function is separated from the forwarding function. This is particularly valuable in converged infrastructure environments, where all of the infrastructure components are abstracted and managed from a centralized platform.



In networking, SDN significantly helps to improve performance, which is necessary for highly virtualized and cloud environments where the preponderance of east-west traffic creates challenges for traditional Ethernet switches. SDN also allows the network control function to be programmable, creating far more agility and control for network designers than was ever available to them in proprietary switching environments.

Understanding OpenFlow
There are several ways to deploy SDN and the one that is catching on quickly within the large-scale network environments is based on OpenFlow. An SDN device with the OpenFlow protocol could be a router, a switch or a wireless access point. Within the device, the router control plane is separated from the data plane and a separate OpenFlow controller typically makes the high-level routing decisions. This separate controller is usually an industry-standard server, making the solution more open, less costly and simpler to manage.

Some of the biggest customers of network equipment—companies that are also the builders of some of the world’s largest networks—have taken steps to ensure that next-generation SDN networks will not be proprietary and will be built on open standards. These companies founded the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) and include Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon and Yahoo.

ONF is working to establish OpenFlow as a standard protocol for software-defined networks. In addition to the six founding members, it has garnered the backing of other major companies that support the development of open standards. Dell, which has a long history of backing open standards dating back to the beginning of the x86 era, is an inaugural member of the ONF, and is one of the first networking vendors in the industry to offer switches, fabrics and controllers that support the OpenFlow protocol.

OpenFlow is already being deployed globally by a wide range of companies and universities, and it will play an increasingly significant role in enterprise networks. In fact, now is the time you should be asking your networking vendors if they support OpenFlow. Companies utilizing SDN with the OpenFlow protocol are already experiencing significant benefits, including:

  • Capex and Opex savings

  • Improved network performance and predictability

  • The ability to simply adjust bandwidth to changing needs

  • Faster provisioning and reconfigurations

  • Quicker time to value for new services

  • Ability to partner with multiple vendors

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SDN and the OpenFlow protocol are still in the early stages of development, in terms of making an impact on networking. But the impact they make will be substantial, changing the nature of networks and making them far more agile, adaptable, open and cost effective for virtual and cloud environments.

The future of networks is an open one. Make sure your vendor supports open standards and that the solutions you choose today are OpenFlow-aware. As we’ve seen so often with technology, the future will be here before you know it. In networking, the open standards future is now.

Want to know more or get specific answers to your questions? Talk to a Dell expert.

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