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6 min read

Transforming your Datacenter with Software-Defined Networking (SDN): Part I

With server virtualization, you are able to decouple a compute instance from the underlying hardware.  That enables you to pool compute resources for greater flexibility. However, to truly transform your datacenter, you’ve also got to deliver your storage, compute, and networking resources as a shared, elastic resource pool for on-demand delivery of datacenter capacity. Indeed, this datacenter-level abstraction is a critical part of Microsoft’s Cloud OS vision.

Part of the challenge in holistically abstracting your datacenter resources is that the network hasn’t kept up with the advances in compute innovation. Today’s networks can be rigid due to tight coupling between your workloads and the underlying physical network hardware such as ports, switches, and routers. Network operations are overly complex since the management interfaces to configure and provision network devices tend to be proprietary; in many cases, network configuration needs to happen on a per-device basis, making it difficult to maintain an end-to-end operational view of your network. And if you’ve ever tried to move an application from one datacenter to another, you know how cumbersome it is to reconfigure the underlying IP addresses in the process.

Defining SDN

Software-defined networking is about enabling software – rather than the hardware – to dynamically manage the network in a way that helps you better meet the requirements of your applications and workloads. This involves:

  • The ability to abstract your apps and workloads from the underlying physical network, which can be accomplished by virtualizing the network. Analogous to server virtualization, you need consistent abstractions that will work with your applications and workloads in a non-disruptive manner. For instance, you would need virtual abstractions for your physical network elements, such as IP addresses, switches, and load balancers.
  • The ability to centrally define and control policies that govern both physical and virtual networks, including traffic flow between them.
  • The ability to implement these network policies in a consistent manner at-scale, even as new workloads are deployed or moved around across virtualized or physical networks.

Delivering SDN

Microsoft’s approach to SDN is grounded in our experiences designing, building, and operating global-scale datacenter networks for services like Windows Azure. We’re adding over a thousand customers per day to Windows Azure. Enterprises trust Microsoft to enable them to deliver on-demand capacity to their business while ensuring secure isolation of their infrastructure and data. Multi-tenancy is built into Windows Azure, after all. To enable easy onboarding and workload portability, Windows Azure enables customers to bring their own IP address to our network. Also our global datacenters have to deal with tens of thousands of network changes every day – it would be impossible to manage such scale without software-enabled automation and control.

Plus, Windows Azure runs on the same Windows Server and Hyper-V platform that we provide to our customers. The exact same. Windows Server and System Center bring our learnings and best practices from operating global scale datacenter networks to you so that you can realize the SDN promise of flexibility, automation and control.

Let’s now click-down on the key aspects of Microsoft’s SDN solution to help you assess what this means for your organization.

Built-in and production ready

Windows Server 2012 delivered Hyper-V Network Virtualization that helps you abstract your apps and workloads from the physical network using virtual networks. Virtual networks provide the necessary multitenant isolation while running on a shared physical network fabric, thereby driving up resource utilization. To ensure that you can carry forward your existing investments, virtual networks can be set up on existing networking gear and are compatible with VLANs. It is also worth noting that virtual networks can scale much better than VLANs for your private and hybrid cloud environments. Check out how EmpireCLS is virtualizing network traffic on top of their physical infrastructure using Hyper-V Network Virtualization.

With System Center 2012 SP1 Virtual Machine Manager, you can provision and manage virtual networks at-scale. You can define and control virtual network policies centrally and link them to your apps or workloads. When your workload is deployed or moved, the network configuration adjusts itself automatically. This is important because it removes the need for manual reconfiguration of network hardware, thereby reducing operational complexity while saving your valuable resources for higher-impact work. Virtual Machine Manager also helps you to control traffic flow between virtual networks, including the ability to define guaranteed bandwidth for your critical apps and workloads.

To seamlessly help you move your workloads within and across datacenters and clouds, we’re delivering a software edge gateway in Windows Server 2012 R2 that can be managed by System Center 2012 R2. If you’re in enterprise IT, this gateway will help you easily extend your datacenter boundaries to a service provider or Windows Azure, so that you can deliver hybrid infrastructure on-demand. If you’re a hosting service provider, this means much greater operational efficiency, since this virtual gateway is multitenant-aware and can support multiple customers on a single instance while meeting their throughput and availability needs.

Open, extensible and standards-based

We want to ensure that customers have the choice of solutions that best support their existing investments and roadmap. We also want to help our partner ecosystem build value-added solutions and extensions on top of Windows Server and System Center. As a testament to our open, extensible and standards-based approach, we have great partner ecosystem momentum for our networking solutions.

We’re committed to standards-based management to reduce datacenter complexity. This will help us enable datacenter plug-n-play so that devices “just work”. Specifically, we will simplify provisioning and configuration of top-of-rack switches using Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2. As a great example of ecosystem support, Arista Networks announced full support for the Open Management Infrastructure (OMI) technology across all Arista platforms through the Arista EOS (Extensible Operating System) software.

Many customers asked us for the ability to deeply integrate Hyper-V virtual networking into their existing network infrastructure, such as their existing monitoring and security tools. To meet that need,   Windows Server 2012 introduced the Hyper-V Extensible Switch, which enables easy extensions of our hypervisor platform. The Hyper-V Extensible Switch also enables partners to build security and manageability extensions. Cisco announced general availability of their Nexus 1000V extension to the Hyper-V Extensible Switch, including integration with System Center 2012 SP1 Virtual Machine Manager. NEC announced System Center 2012 SP1 Virtual Machine Manager based support for their OpenFlow-based Hyper-V switch extension. Additionally, 5NINE and inMon have in-market offerings based on Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V switch extensions.

To provide additional flexibility and choice for customers, partners are building gateway appliances to bridge physical and virtual networks. F5 announced an appliance-based gateway that will support Hyper-V Network Virtualization environments, including integration with System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager. Huawei announced Hyper-V Network Virtualization gateway support in their core switches for Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2. Finally, Iron Networks announced support for Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 in an update to their in-market network gateway appliance.

Microsoft is actively participating in industry consortiums like Open Daylight to promote industry standards and customer choice.

Hardware and software innovation

We believe that both hardware and software innovations are required to make these SDN promises real.   This is important for applications that might need direct visibility into the physical network to meet their performance needs, for instance. We continue to work with our network adapter and merchant silicon partners to deliver native hardware performance by ensuring that our platform takes full advantage of their unique hardware capabilities. Mellanox technologies and Emulex announced NVGRE task offload capability in their NICs to optimize network performance. We’re also working with Intel and Broadcom to support Hyper-V Network Virtualization in their chipsets.

Next steps

  • Learn more by viewing our TechEd North America session on SDN
  • Check out Microsoft’s perspective on SDN from the Interop keynote panel last month
  • Register to be notified once the Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 product evaluation bits become available

Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be diving much deeper into the Windows Server and System Center networking technologies that can help you eliminate the seams in your network and transform your datacenter. So make sure you’ll check back on this site frequently!

As always, we’d really like to hear from you, so please feel free to share your thoughts and comments.