Monday, May 21, 2012

New Zealand at the research cutting edge: Software Defined Networking

It's a little known fact that New Zealand is home to some cutting-edge work that is making networks, including the Internet, faster, more flexible and more stable.

Those who follow developments in networking have probably heard  about Software Defined Networking (SDN) and the Open Networking Foundation. SDN enables networks to be more flexible and less complex by moving decision making off of individual network devices and onto external controllers. To borrow an analogy from one writer, it’s kind of like replacing taxi cabs with self-driving cars. SDN has attracted a lot of interest and support from not only universities and researchers, but from major network equipment vendors, ISPs and companies like Google.

At the most recent Open Networking Summit Google’s Senior Vice President of Technical Infrastructure Urs Hoelzle spoke about Google’s use of an SDN technology called OpenFlow, which we use to connect our data centers together. SDN offers a way to give much more precise control over traffic flowing over this network and enable much more efficient utilization than conventional routing protocols.

What has been not quite so widely reported is that SDN work is being done right here in New Zealand. On May 15,  REANNZ (Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand) and Victoria University of Wellington hosted an event where attendees from area universities built New Zealand’s first experimental OpenFlow network.

Other recent SDN activity includes research at Victoria on building an open source LSR (Label Switch Router) based on OpenFlow, and University of Waikato’s contributions to OpenFlow projects including Open VSwitch which is built into recent Linux kernels. Both of these efforts serve to demonstrate the practical use of SDN and enable further advanced network research. Wellington ISP CityLink is also considering OpenFlow deployment.

Kiwis are very much at the forefront of networking technology with SDN and OpenFlow, and it’s exciting to see it right here in New Zealand - with more to come!

Posted by Josh Bailey, Software Engineer, Google New Zealand.