IBM, NEC team to push OpenFlow solution

For a number of months the biggest buzz in data centre connectivity has been software-defined networking for virtualizing networks.

On Tuesday, IBM Corp and NEC Corp. of America gave some heft to the talk by saying they will partner to market solutions using the OpenFlow protocol for certain switches and controllers.

The companies announced a few early testers in the U.S., but none in Canada.

“It’s early days at this junction, but we are talking to a number of carrier-grade solution providers,” said Don Stewart, vice-president of sales for NEC Canada.

“They’re interested in the concept and what they can do with it,” he said, but made it clear “we’re just starting to get the process rolling.”

IBM’s contribution is the OpenFlow-enabled 10/40GbE RackSwitch G8264 top of rack switch, which will be married with NEC’s ProgrammableFlow network controller.

The partners say the solution enables a network administrator to easily configure and manage virtual networks on a “per-flow” basis, creating or deleting multiple independent virtual networks and related policies without having to deal with the underlying physical network and protocols.

The early adopters announced Tuesday include Stanford University — where OpenFlow was developed – which will run a network using the IBM-NEC solution in parallel to a production network, and Selerity Inc., whose search engine pulls and delivers financial and news information to customers.

A number of forces are pushing interest in software-defined networking, including data centre consolidation, the reduction in the number of layers in the data centre and server virtualization.

According to a report IBM [NYSE: IBM] and NEC provided from the Enterprise Strategy Group, software defined networking centralizes the network control plane. As a result it hold the promise of streamlining network operations while transforming disparate networking devices into an integrated data center fabric.

Software-defined networking is based upon open standards – OpenFlow is one open API — and controller-based software running on an x86 server, an approach that lets software developers program the network.

For example, NEC and IBM said a company that needs to capture network data for forensics would see the SPAN and TAP ports on its switches capturing huge amounts of data, more than it needed. Programmable switches would let them filter out exactly what they need.

“What we’re trying to do is provide a solution that is automated, that can provide the same level of agility that you get from virtualization with servers, that can be integrated with other components of the data centre and can be maintainable over time so you can increase service windows and decrease service costs,” said Don Clark, who directs NEC’s OpenFlow business in North America

What the partners are trying to say is that software defined networking has moved from the academic lab to the point where enterprises should be evaluating it.

A number of big manufacturers, carriers and content providers are behind the Open Networking Foundation, including Cisco Systems Inc., Juniper Networks Inc., Huawei Technologies, Microsoft and Google.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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