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Alcatel-Lucent Spins Up Its SDN

Spin-in Nuage Networks thinks it's outdone Nicira with an SDN product that focuses on Layer 3 and with intentions to scale beyond the data center

Craig Matsumoto

April 2, 2013

5 Min Read
Alcatel-Lucent Spins Up Its SDN

Nuage Networks, the Alcatel-Lucent spin-in, is launching what it considers the most complete software-defined networking (SDN) product to date.

Two things to note: It's all software, with no direct mention of Alcatel-Lucent's routers. And it's an actual product, due to begin trials in a couple of weeks, rather than a vague architecture. AlcaLu is launching both the startup and the product, called the Virtualized Services Platform (VSP), at an event Tuesday morning in Santa Clara, Calif.

Nuage is targeting the data center, aiming at one of the basic problems SDN is meant to fight: the inability to quickly connect one virtual machine to another, due to the way the network works.

Mobile-heavy vendors such as Ericsson AB have pointed out that the connections in question already happen automatically in the case of mobile phones. (See Ericsson Claims SDN Advantage and Ericsson Gets Trendy for MWC.)

And indeed, that's the model Nuage is using. The company's demos in Santa Clara are meant to show that an enterprise user can spin up a virtual machine and have all the underlying networking happen automatically and without thinking, in the same way that a cellphone connects itself to the network.

From Nuage's promo video. The multicolored bars represent network connections being created on the fly. In the sequel, they go insane and chase people around the data center.

The Virtualized Services Platform consists of three pieces:

  • The Virtualized Services Directory (VSD) runs alongside cloud management platforms such as OpenStack.

  • The Virtual Services Controller (VSC), AlcaLu's OpenFlow controller.

  • The Virtual Routing and Switching (VRS) element, which is a lightweight software agent that's programmed inside a virtual router or switch (and not necessarily an Alcalu virtual router/switch, either). The agent watches for activity, and when a virtual machine is activated, it pings the VSC and sets into motion the process of creating a connection.

A couple of things to note. The VRS code must be downloaded into a virtual switch -- which means the virtual switch has to be programmed to accept it. Nuage is making the VRS open-source; it works with VMware Inc.'s latest Open vSwitch implementation and will eventually work with all other hypervisors, company officials say.

And the VSCs are federated, meaning they can be distributed around data centers and connected to behave like one big controller. These connections are done via the BGP routing protocol. It's similar to the distributed controller developed by Contrail Systems, the startup that was acquired by Juniper. (See Juniper Cracking SDN Open.)

Note that nothing here has anything to do with an Alcatel-Lucent router.

"We needed these guys to think as broadly as they needed to," says Basil Alwan, president of AlcaLu's IP division and the boss of Sunil Khandekar, Nuage's CEO.

At the same time, Nuage got to borrow from AlcaLu's intellectual property. Nuage used the AlcaLu BGP routing stack rather than creating one of its own, for example. We'll explain why in a minute.

A whole lot of "V" names
What all this is supposed to solve is the difficulty of setting up virtual LANs to connect the virtualized elements of a data center. That process is manual and slow, and if an outside entity is involved -- say, if an enterprise wants to create connections inside a cloud provider's network, it can be even slower.

Nuage's products, all of them software, work together to automate the creation of these east/west connections. When a virtual machine spins up, the pieces send messages to one another like a telegraph. The VSD (directory piece) knows the details of that virtual machine -- policy, security, which physical network it's on, and so on. It determines what kind of network connection is needed and relays those instructions to the VSC (the OpenFlow controller), which then programs the VSR (the router piece) with the appropriate routing instructions.

This is the kind of thing most vendors are talking about -- a way to let users spin up SDNs without having to ask someone to configure the network.

But Nuage thinks it's taken a couple of extra steps. For instance, not everyone has automated the dialogue between the directory and the controller, Alwan says.

Moreover, early SDN protocols such as OpenFlow do most or all of their work at Layer 2. Nuage is taking the approach of building Layer 3 tunnels between virtual machines, but it does so without actually getting a router involved.

"What Nicira did is a fairly rudimentary Layer 2 overlay. I don't want to be insulting here, but there's a lot of good work that's happened since," Alwan says. "We're looking at how you support multitenancy and complex topologies."

Part of the importance of Layer 3 is its scale. Nuage is planning for its SDN to reach between data centers. Alwan wants to make a business of software-defined VPNs, replacing the MPLS-based virtual private networks used for connecting branch offices to enterprises.

The bigger point is that an enterprise user can do all of this without being aware of the network at all. In that sense, the Nuage demo is rather boring: The user clicks a virtual machine, and everything happens almost instantly.

"The guys configuring the business policies and the enterprise customer instances in the directory -- not having to understand IP addressing and subnets and all that stuff just makes it so much easier for these guys," says Lindsay Newell, AlcaLu's vice president of marketing.

Users can also monitor statistics and analytics related to their piece of the network, a feature that could be useful in multitenant clouds.

For more

  • Q&A: Alcatel-Lucent's SDN CEO

  • Alcatel-Lucent Preps 'TiMetra Mark II'

  • Alcatel-Lucent Has a Top-Secret SDN Startup!

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Craig Matsumoto

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Yes, THAT Craig Matsumoto – who used to be at Light Reading from 2002 until 2013 and then went away and did other stuff and now HE'S BACK! As Editor-in-Chief. Go Craig!!

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