NEC Intros SDN 'Controller of Controllers'
Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading
NEC America today introduced a Unified Network Controller designed to allow users to manage multiple datacenters as a single network.
"What we're announcing here is a controller of controllers to be able to scale out OpenFlow domains to allow for both intra-datacenter and inter-datacenter scaling of capacity," Don Clark, NEC America Inc. director of business development, said in an interview. "It allows us to tightly manage how traffic is moving across the WAN links, so that we can make better use of available capacity."
He added: "We have this concept of the controller managing individual switch devices on the network. Before [the new product], that would be the end of scaling. With the UNC, we can configure multiple controllers as if they were a single instance."
The UNC, part of the vendor's ProgrammableFlow Networking Suite Version 5.1, enables users to create virtual networks spanning multiple datacenters, Clark said. Using OpenFlow as the centralized control protocol, the UNC works with switches from multiple vendors, and is extremely scalable. Users can make better use of network resources by pooling them across datacenters, moving virtual machines (VMs) from overextended datacenters to others that have available capacity. End users would, in theory, experience improved access to applications and collaboration.
NEC says the ProgrammableFlow Networking Suite Version 5.1 allows users to increase by a factor of 10 the number of switches and flows that can be controlled centrally, compared with Version 5.0.
NEC envisions UNC being used for disaster recovery and business continuity, controlling two locations -- a main datacenter and a standby -- from a single network operations point. The UNC would also be useful for migrating individual virtual machines from one datacenter to another.
The UNC will be commercially available in late April.
NEC announced the product at the Open Networking Summit 2014 in Santa Clara, Calif.
The UNC "demonstrates the promise of software defined networks," Gartner analyst Joe Skorupa said in a phone interview. "The real promise of SDN is by abstracting network topology from individual devices, and centralizing the controller and providing open APIs. That's where innovation will be."
Software such as the UNC will, the industry is led to believe, enable networking and services innovation, but what kind of innovation? "Heck, we don't know yet," Skorupa said.
OpenFlow support helps NEC compensate for one of its chief liabilities. "NEC has a relatively limited portfolio of switches," Skorupa said. "But because it supports things like OpenFlow, it now has the potential to incorporate switches from other vendors."
NEC's biggest challenge, in the US market at least, is visibility. "They're not particularly visible in the US market," Skorupa said. "They don't have a large installed base in enterprise accounts in North America. As an optimist, you could say that's an amazing opportunity for growth. A more cautious view is that they don't have the established routes to market that a Cisco, Dell, HP, or VMware would have."
Centralized management (aka 'the telco cloud') is, in the words of the immortal Ron Burgundy, "kind of a big deal," with multiple vendors announcing products in just the past few weeks.
- Stealth startup Versa Networks is developing an SDN controller that bridges the datacenter and cloud. (See UNVEILED! California's Hottest SDN Startup, Versa Networks.)
- Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR)'s Junos Fusion is designed to allow users to manage thousands of endpoints from multiple vendors as one. (See Juniper Expands Its Virtual World .)
- The OpenDaylight Project's open source Hydrogen controller is designed to control switches from multiple vendors. (See OpenDaylight Unveils Open-Source SDN Controller.)
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