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Broadcom to lead SDN interface venture

Posted: 22 Nov 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:software-defined networks? OpenFlow? distributed protocols? API?

Broadcom has teamed up with two communications OEMs and a group of apps developers to create an applications programming interface (API) for software-defined networks (SDN). The API is an attempt at a vendor-neutral, hybrid approach that could embrace both today's distributed protocols and OpenFlow, a radically new and disruptive approach to SDNs.

OpenFlow aims to simplify the building and managing of big networks by centralizing communications jobs on x86 servers. Theoretically, it replaces today's complex set of distributed protocols run in an array of merchant chips and ASICs in a variety of proprietary software environments.

"No one is going to replace all their networks and run OpenFlow-you have to provide flexibility in the networks people already have," said Rajiv Ramaswami, general manager of Broadcom's infrastructure and networking group in an interview with EE Times.

"If you run everything in a [central] OpenFlow controller, you have to go to that controller for every decision, and that's a bottleneck and scaling issue," said Sujal Das, director of product marketing in the group. "One needs to take a more holistic approach."

Broadcom's API effort aims to enable both OpenFlow and distributed networking protocols already in use. It hopes the interface could become an industry standard above vendor-specific efforts and SDN APIs announced by Cisco Systems and others.

"With the changing dynamics we are increasing asked to map to higher level APIs, and that's where we are putting our work," said Das.

Broadcom is recruiting backers for the project but has not yet started active development on the API. So far, the group contains no other merchant chip makers.

If comms vendors see the effort as competitive and fail to embrace it, the API risks becoming yet another software stack that end users may need to support. The API also has to attract a following of apps developers who add value to the interface.

'Table typing patterns'

Separately, an OpenFlow working group aims to develop a new layer of software to map its central controller protocol to the ASICs used in today's routers and switches. The group has agreed on an approach but is expected to receive multiple competing proposals on how to implement it from Broadcom and others.

The so-called Forwarding Abstractions Working Group will define a set of "table typing patterns" to let an OpenFlow controller communicate at run-time what sorts of actions it wants from a router or switch. The group will also create an example set of the table patterns, said Curt Beckmann, a principal architect at Brocade who chairs the group.

"We agree with the philosophy, what's still up in the air are the specifics of these tables, how they line up with actions and rules and how many tables there are," said Das. "It should be amenable to existing switches rather than require people to buy new ones," he said.

Broadcom does "not have a finished proposal [for the tables], but we are soliciting feedback on one," he added.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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