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Google uncloaks SDN for data centre networks

Posted: 22 Jun 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Google? data centre? Brocade? ZTE? enterprise?

During this year's Open Networking Summit, software-defined networks (SDN) based on the Openflow standard are gaining momentum with new chip, system and software products. At the event, Google unleashed its data centre networks are already using Openflow and AT&T said (in its own way) it will follow suit.

Showing support for the emerging approach, systems giants from Brocade to ZTE participated in SDN demos for carriers, data centres and enterprises running on the show floor.

SDN aims to cut through a rat's nest of existing protocols implemented in existing proprietary ASICs and applications programming interfaces. If successful, it will let users more easily configure and manage network tasks using high-level programs run on x86 servers.

The rapid rise of mobile and cloud traffic is driving the need for SDN. For example, Google has seen traffic in its data centres rise 50-fold in the last six years, said Amin Vahdat, technical lead for networking at Google.


Jupiter is Google's latest of five generations of SDN data centre networks.

In a keynote, Vahdat described Jupiter (above), Google's data centre network built internally to deal with the data flood. It uses 16x40G switch chips to create a 1.3 Petabit/second data centre Clos network, and is the latest of five generations of SDN networks at the search giant.

"We are opening this up so engineers can take advantage of our work," Vahdat said, declining to name any specific companies adopting its Jupiter architecture.

For its part, AT&T said it will follow the lead of Google and Facebook, which showed its networking systems in March. Like the Web giants, AT&T is turning to ODMs to provide switches and servers it specifies for networks managed largely using open source software.

"This is the first time telcos have done this," said John Donovan, senior executive VP of technology and network operations at AT&T, promising trials and deployments of the ODM systems next year.

AT&T aims to turn purpose-built systems such as session border controllers, into software applications in the next step of virtualising its carrier network. "We will rely on software to virtualize and control 75 per cent of our network...with the most important five per cent to establish a foundation complete by the end of year, and a lot of it based on open software," Donovan added.

Instead of searching for and responding to known header fields in data packets, the Openflow approach supports commands expressed as tables. Support in the latest Openflow version 1.3 for multiple tables was a key to breaking free from the limits of TCAM memories in existing systems, said Carolyn Raab, VP of product management for Corsa (Ottawa), a start-up shipping SDN switches based on FPGAs.

Today's merchant network switches such as those from Broadcom still rely on TCAMs, Raab said, driving the company to use FPGAs. However, next-generation chips such as Cavium's Xplaint, shown running in three ODM systems at the show, are more amenable to handling the table-based approach of Openflow.

Two or three start-ups including Barefoot Networks and Forward Networks, are working on new architectures geared for table matching. Their founders include Stanford researchers who helped kick off the Openflow approach several years ago.

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