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Google Uses OpenFlow Massively

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Open Networking Summit -- Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is running OpenFlow on 100 percent of its internal backbone, the one that connects data centers together, and did indeed build its own 10Gbit/s switches to do it, keynoter Urs Hölzle said here Tuesday.

Building things quickly and a tolerance for risk are central to the Google aesthetic, and that's how OpenFlow got into the mix, said Hölzle, the company's senior vice president of technical infrastructure. Google started implementing OpenFlow in 2010 -- before the existence of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), the organization now in charge of the standard.

OpenFlow is a software defined networking (SDN) protocol that lets an external controller feed route information into switches. In theory, it lets operators (or automated processes) make changes quickly, creating a more fluid network.

The main benefit has been cost savings: It's cheaper to run the network this way. The network can fix itself, meaning less monitoring and intervention are needed.

Hölzle doesn't have numbers to prove that, but he thinks he's clearly come out ahead with the OpenFlow bet. "Even though it's early in the process, it's stable, and it's definitely meeting our requirements," he said.

His mention of the homemade 10Gbit/s Ethernet switches was Google's first public admission of building such systems, something that analyst Andrew Schmitt, now with Infonetics Research Inc. , uncovered about five years ago. (See Google's 10-GigE Assault.)

The switches Hölzle was talking about were a new batch, built because Google couldn't find a commercial switch with OpenFlow ports. Now that OpenFlow has become hip, with products available from companies like HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) and NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701), that might change.

"There's nothing special [to our switch]. It's a 10Gbit/s switch, lots of ports," he said. "I would have loved to be able to buy this, and I'm confident I can this year or next year."

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:36:04 PM
re: Google Uses OpenFlow Massively

Someone on Twitter chastised me for my comment in the Verizon story, about SDN/OpenFlow having not proven their worth in the real world. They used Google's keynote as a counterexample.


But I don't know... in my mind, Google doesn't count as the real world (in many, many ways). An example like this is nifty and shows the potential of the technology.... but I wouldn't bet on the industry doing something just because Google does it.


What do you think? What can a normal carrier or enterprise learn from Google's example here?

ethertype 12/5/2012 | 5:36:02 PM
re: Google Uses OpenFlow Massively

We might be able to answer your question if you provided even a small amount of detail about what Google is actually DOING with OpenFlow.

Neelixx 12/5/2012 | 5:36:02 PM
re: Google Uses OpenFlow Massively

I agree with Craig.  The Universities and the "Google" are great use-cases to prove that OpenFlow works..... but cannot be considered "real world".


In my mind, it's gonna take many years before private enterprise networks will start using OpenFlow.  There is not near as great of a need to build logic in those layers, as there is in the SP / University industries.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:36:01 PM
re: Google Uses OpenFlow Massively

Ethertype -- what they're doing actually doesn't sound that dramatic. They're carrying backbone traffic and taking advantage of the lower opex, because traffic engineering is easier and faster.


I might have missed a fancy feature or two that Holzle mentioned, but that's the gist of it.

wildcard22 12/5/2012 | 5:35:33 PM
re: Google Uses OpenFlow Massively

ANY network operator will tell you, that in the words of our VP, it is a big f****** deal, to run production traffic on a new technology. 


Google may not be your typical carrier/ISP but that does not mean that they have no one to answer to -- their infrastructure team that builds and operates their network has to answer to all other divisions of Google that use their internal network - teams like GMail, Google Apps, You Tube etc. and they all have different traffic characteristics and requirements.


Just talk to a network operator - that's all I'm saying!!

wildcard22 12/5/2012 | 5:35:33 PM
re: Google Uses OpenFlow Massively

ANY network operator will tell you, that in the words of our VP, it is a big f****** deal, to run production traffic on a new technology. 


Google may not be your typical carrier/ISP but that does not mean that they have no one to answer to -- their infrastructure team that builds and operates their network has to answer to all other divisions of Google that use their internal network - teams like GMail, Google Apps, You Tube etc. and they all have different traffic characteristics and requirements.


Just talk to a network operator - that's all I'm saying!!

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