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NEC SDN applications and open northbound API: Will OpenDaylight bite?

NEC unveiled SDN applications built on an open northbound API to optimize and secure the cloud. Will OpenDaylight use the interface as a standard?

NEC Corporation of America unveiled a family of SDN applications built on an open northbound API aimed at enhancing security, optimization and orchestration in a cloud network.

The launch will be the start of a growing ecosystem of vendor partners and SDN applications that will use the open application programming interface (API). Now NEC will push the OpenDaylight Project to consider its northbound interface as the basis for an industry standard.

NEC promoted its SDN Application Center at Interop Las Vegas this week, demonstrating apps developed by partners Red Hat, Radware, A10 Networks, Silver Peak, vArmour and Real Status. The apps include WAN optimization, load balancing, denial-of-service (DoS) attack prevention, virtualization security and cloud orchestration.

"This is a RESTful API similar to the Google Maps approach where Google provided the API, and then great [hybrid] applications sprung from that," said Don Clark, director of business development and strategy at NEC. "Now we are seeing the same thing happen in the network."

With its ProgrammableFlow SDN portfolio, NEC is one of the few players to offer OpenFlow-friendly physical switches, virtual switching, a controller, management console and now an application ecosystem.

NEC is "trying to show that they know where this [SDN] is all going; that this is about supporting the cloud with the right network architecture," said IDC Research Director Brad Casemore. NEC is showing that SDN applications can enable workload mobility, as well as optimization and flexible security in private and hybrid clouds, unlike traditional networking, Casemore explained.

NEC SDN applications: Programmable network management

Integrating network management applications into an SDN controller framework means appliances can be spun up on demand, providing varying functions for distinct network tenants based upon need. Ultimately, it means more granular management, as well as optimized use of appliances.

For example, "the integration between the controller and the A10 management framework means A10 can spawn new instances of virtual load balancers as the capacity requirements dictate," Clark explained. Yet, when traffic wanes, those new appliances can be deactivated and remaining flows can be consolidated on fewer load balancers.

Meanwhile, Silver Peak's integration of WAN acceleration into NEC's controller lets systems administrators decide which flows to send through the accelerator based on policy instead of pushing all flows through, Clark added.

On the security front, NEC's partnership with vArmour provides flexible security for hypervisors and virtual machines, and its relationship with Radware enables distributed DoS mitigation that is integrated with the NEC controller. This way, suspect traffic can be redirected to the Radware appliance as needed.

"We can scale the number of boxes when needed … so you don't need to buy for the size of the network itself," Clark said.

Even before this week's announcement, NEC had made headway in cloud management by integrating with Microsoft Systems Center and by providing a plug-in for Openstack Quantum. Now NEC has "validated Red Hat's cloud initiative with its OpenStack Quantum implementation," so its controller will work with Red Hat's cloud management, Clark said.

Will NEC's northbound API become an OpenDaylight standard?

Now that partners are using its open northbound interface to develop applications, NEC will ask the OpenDaylight Project to consider its API as a model or reference for the open source initiative, Clark said.

The newly formed consortium of vendors will develop open source code for an SDN controller and will consider both southbound protocols and northbound interfaces -- or at least a reference model for the latter.

Every major network hardware vendor has joined OpenDaylight, and many SDN innovators -- many of whom want their own code and strategy considered -- are also on board, but the consortium has said code will be chosen based on meritocracy and not influenced by the size of the company involved, money or other factors. NEC will be the first to test that.

"We will see the process for vetting and approving code and how politicized that will be," Casemore said. "There will be others that have solid code, but NEC has real commercial deployments and they've been at this longer than most. Some of this code has been battle-tested in real deployments."

NEC SDN applications face competition

Big Switch beat NEC to the punch, launching a family of SDN applications and an ecosystem of 27 heavy-duty partners in addition to a controller last November. Meanwhile, a wide range of other competitors have launched SDN-driven network virtualization, security and network management apps. But NEC differentiates itself on a complete network stack, from applications to switches.

Big Switch positions itself as a software-only company that is "open and agnostic with respect to hardware," but NEC has pursued the entire network stack, providing "both the physical and virtual data plane for customers that need to get going today," Casemore said.

NEC doesn't require customers to use its hardware -- the company's controller and network virtualization apps have been tested across many vendors, including Arista, Extreme and Brocade -- but it can also provide customers with the entire software and hardware data center, which can't be matched by others.

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