Software Defined Networking Transforms Traditional SLAs

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By Brandon Hoff, director of product management, cloud and innovation, Emulex

Software-defined networking (SDN) may seem like just the latest buzzword in the high tech industry, but there’s more to it than that. Among the obvious operational cost savings and operational flexibility, SDN brings a number of important benefits to the enterprise datacenter. One such benefit is the advancement and optimization of the traditional Service Level Agreement (SLA).

This is important for Open Fabric users because of network convergence where RDMA becomes a service to run over the converged Ethernet network. With RoCE, Enterprise customers will be running three types of traffic over their networks: standard networking traffic, storage traffic, and now RDMA traffic.  As new RDMA workloads become ubiquitous across the data center, RDMA becomes a new service to be deployed, and managed by an SLA.

Traditional SLAs provided by service providers or internal IT teams usually cover the availability of already deployed workloads, including such things as mean time between failure (MTBF), mean time to repair, or mean time to recovery.  Today, however, customers require more from their service providers.  For example, they may want to dynamically spin up and spin down different workloads, or imitate their on-premise deployment, and have their SLAs expanded to cover these new requirements.  Whereas traditional SLAs may state that a data center environment would have “five 9’s availability” or five minutes of downtime per year, a new SLA might be more specific, and state something like “five 9’s and 10 minutes to deploy a new server with RoCE through a web-based portal.”

There is a gap between what customers want from service providers and what service providers can currently deliver. The current challenge with supporting this new class of SLA has been the legacy network. For example, deploying a workload on a virtual machine (VM) might take two minutes, but it takes a week to configure the network around it, making it nearly impossible to improve the status quo.   Furthermore, converged Ethernet has specific features that need to be configured to create the lossless Ethernet network environment essential for FCoE, iSCSI, and now RoCE traffic.

With SDN, network devices (routers and switches) can be managed through APIs such as OpenFlow or other standard interfaces.  Virtual networks (e.g. Virtual Extensible LAN [VXLAN] or Network Virtualization using Generic Routing Encapsulation [NVGRE]) and converged Ethernet settings can be managed through a separate set of APIs.  Once the network is virtualized, then the SDN controller can configure network devices as quickly as new VMs or bare metal workloads can be deployed. For example, with OpenStack, a customer can take an image, deploy it to hardware, spin it up, put an application on it through OpenStack Compute and configure the network around it in a short time through OpenStack Networking (a form of SDN). As a result, SDN enables SLAs to cover the new dynamic nature of the data center and reduce the time and costs to deploy new compute resources.

As an example, there is a large transportation company planning their next data center solution.  Their goal is to support their developers to bring new tools and solutions to their company to drive revenue and increase customer loyalty.  This next-generation data center leverages new technologies to build a software-defined infrastructure where developers can spin up new workloads, develop, test, and deploy new software at the click of a button.  A key technology to make this work is SDNs that build Virtual Network Fabrics (VNF) so workloads can be deployed, expanded, and moved automatically without the complexity and cost of reconfiguring the network at each point with legacy tools.  In this case, hardware offloads are essential to increase VM density and network performance by 30% or more.  For their storage, this end user is leveraging SMB Direct over RoCE, making RDMA a standard feature in their converged network, manageable from an SDN controller.

From the service provider’s perspective, the benefits of SDN include cutting down the time to deploy a new service from seven days to just a few minutes. And, what would have traditionally cost a service provider $1200 or more for those seven days can be reduced to nearly nothing just by the click of a button.  Plus, customers are going to require RoCE as well, which will become a part of the service provider’s platform.  With lower costs and faster time to market of new services, operators have the ability to increase profitability and improve customer satisfaction. From a customer’s perspective, they get an on-demand virtual environment and the IT services they need in an instant. Everybody wins.

This new kind of SLA doesn’t just focus on uptime, but supports the dynamic requirements of the new datacenter paradigm.