Monday, November 2, 2015

Simplifying the World’s Most Powerful Computer Network with SDN

For the first time, SC’s research and production network (SCinet) will be using the emerging technology software defined networking (SDN) to manage and simplify the operations for a portion of the SC conference’s show floor network.

SCinet is the research and production network that serves as the backbone of data communications for the annual SC Conference. By using SDN in the SCinet network, the group of network engineers deploying SCinet will be able to transfer the task of configuring individual network switching devices to a single piece of software, removing human error from the process of setting up connections within the network.

Nick Buraglio, SDN Project Lead
“Take the last three problems or errors that have occurred on a network of any notable size,” says Nick Buraglio, network engineer at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) and lead of SCinet’s SDN project, “it’s almost always a configuration problem—some kind of human error that caused those issues.”

As the pilot year for this SDN project, half of SCinet’s circa one hundred, one-gigabit booth connections will be SDN configured. This technology will simplify managing these network connections and will hopefully reduce the time engineers spend troubleshooting configuration and provisioning errors.


“Previously SCinet had to create its own configurations for devices which required a unique configuration template for each device along a path. Using SDN, we can take all the idiosyncrasies of various devices into account and configure these devices using a single piece of software,” said J.P. Velders, a network engineer from the University of Amsterdam and co-chair of SCinet’s routing team.

Although still an emerging technology, SCinet anticipates that SDN will increase efficiencies. This network provides a unique platform for running high performance computing (HPC) applications and demonstrations at the SC conference, which is in its 27th year. SCinet, built by more than 100 volunteers from academia, industry and government, has been providing the network connectivity and platform for HPC research at SC since 1991.

From left: SCinet volunteers J.P. Velders, Paul Wefel, Conan Moore and Davey Wheeler (SCinet Chair)
“SDN allows the participating vendors to showcase the programmability of their equipment in a production environment.  In addition to the enhancements to the SCinet architecture itself, the use of SDN helps promote the practical usability of the technology to conference participants and the network industry as a whole, “ says Conan Moore, a network engineer from the University of Colorado Boulder and co-chair of SCinet’s routing team.

To implement SDN, SCinet is partnering with Brocade, a network technology company. Brocade is providing both the routing and switching equipment, and the Controller software, which uses OpenFlow, the feature that enables SCinet to deploy SDN across multiple devices.

The SCinet team used OpenFlow in 2014 with Big Switch Networks technology for cybersecurity applications.  “Last year we monitored network traffic for security events using SDN to control the security monitoring infrastructure,” Buraglio said.

While SDN will be isolated to part of the SCinet network this year, Velders anticipates that the technology will span the entire network by 2016.

“Our goal is to scale up the use of SDN to the entire network which will save time when having to configure several hundreds of booth connections and their associated circuits. It will allow us to become more agile and more flexible to accommodate changes and requests,” Velders said.

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