Intel Offers Open Software Defined Networks

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Intel wants your sofware defined switches on its x86 processors

Intel is promising to make “virtual switches”, stepping into the software defined networking (SDN) arena to take on Cisco, as part of its bid to redesign data centres.

Intel’s processors and the Linux operating system will be combined to make programmable switches which can support the emerging OpenFlow standard for software defined networking, and can link virtual servers in a data centre more flexibly and efficiently, executives told the Open Networking Summit, an OpenFlow conference held this week in Santa Clara California.

Intel switches track

Intel signIntel showed reference architectures for switches aimed at enterprises, cloud service providers and telecommunications companies. The architectures are intended to allow partners to quickly create hardware and software for SDN and network-function virtualisation (NFV), moves that could bring Intel into closer competition with the likes of networking giant Cisco Systems and chip maker Broadcom.

Intel’s strategy is to do SDN on its standard x86-based platform, which could reduce the need for specialized networking silicon from Cisco and other networking vendors.

“SDN and NFV are critical elements of Intel’s vision to transform the expensive, complex networks of today to a virtualised, programmable, standards-based architecture running commercial off-the-shelf hardware,” Rose Schooler, vice president of the Intel architecture group and general manager of Intel’s communications and storage infrastructure group, said in a statement.

“The reference designs announced today enable a new phase in the evolution of the network and represent Intel’s commitment to driving an open environment that fosters business agility and smart economics.”

Networking technology now tends to be proprietary, costly and relatively inflexible, Schooler told press. It is also difficult to deploy, has a limited ecosystem, and is complex and inefficient. By contrast, SDN is more flexible, scalable and programmable, because it takes network intelligence away from switches and routers and puts it into a software-based controller. NFV uses virtualisation to consolidate networking equipment onto industry-standard servers, storage and switches, she said.

Intel has bought a number of companies over the past couple of years to rapidly grow its networking capabilities, including Ethernet chip maker Fulcrum Systems in 2011. It also has made several moves in the SDN space this year, including investing $6.5 million in Big Switch Systems and helping found the OpenDaylight Project, which aims to create a common, open SDN platform.

The company also is working with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute’s NFV project.

Intel’s software defined networks

iNTEL SEACLIFF TRAIL ARCHITECTUREIntel’s Open Network Platform Switch Reference Design uses Intel Core or Xeon processors, its Ethernet Switch 6700 series and Intel Communications Chipset 89xx series as a foundation. The reference design, which had been codenamed “Seacliff Trail,” includes Wind River Open Network Software, a switching software stack that uses Wind River Linux and that supports such SDN standards as OpenFlow and Open vSwitch.

Intel’s Data Plan Development Kit (DPDK) Accelerated Open vSwitch is designed to improve small packet throughput and workload performance using standard Intel-based servers.

Another architecture, the Open Network Platform Server Reference Design, is based on Xeon chips, Intel’s 82599 Ethernet controller and the Communications Chipset 89xx series. The reference design enables enterprises and service providers to put virtual appliance workloads on standard Intel-based servers using SDN and NFV standards, and also includes the Wind River Open Networking Software, which supports Intel’s DPDK Accelerated Open vSwitch and the OpenStack cloud software.

The Open Network Platform Switch Reference Design is available now, while the DPDK Accelerated Open vSwitch will be released with the Open Network Platform Server Reference Design in the third quarter. That reference design is in development, with the first alpha series set to be available in the second half of this year.

SDN players welcome Intel

Other SDN players welcomed Intel aboard. “Software has almost unlimited potential when coupled with generally available, inexpensive and programmable hardware,” said Stu Bailey, founder and CTO of Infoblox. “We’ve seen this potential realised in the PC and server industries with breakthroughs like cloud computing and the Web. The network is the next frontier of this type of innovation as the entire world – people and things – demands more and more from networks.”

Jeffrey Burt of eWEEK contributed to this article. 

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Originally published on eWeek.