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NEC's controller tackles SDN orchestration for data center interconnect

NEC's new Unified Network Coordinator creates a data center interconnect by using an SDN orchestration tool for multiple OpenFlow controllers.

Santa Clara, Calif.—NEC introduced a data center interconnect technology to its line of OpenFlow products that will allow enterprises to connect multiple OpenFlow environments across wide area networks.

The Unified Network Coordinator (UNC) is a "controller of controllers," according to Don Clark, general manager of new business development at NEC, which announced the technology at the 2014 Open Networking Summit this week. The software's SDN orchestration capabilities can coordinate multiple ProgrammableFlow controllers from NEC across both the local area network (LAN) and the wide area network (WAN), while also allowing flow control and policies across WAN links, he said. By orchestrating controllers across the WAN, the UNC enables a data center interconnect via SDN.

"A ProgrammableFlow Controller [creates] virtual networks. It provides the abstraction layer between managing [OpenFlow] flows on an individual basis and presents a Layer 2 network [to the users]," Clark said. "The user doesn't manage flows. They manage virtual networks. That layer of abstraction can be controlled by the Unified Network Coordinator."

The UNC "pushes OpenFlow out from the data center and across the WAN to provide DCI [data center interconnect]," said Brad Casemore, research director for Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. 

"In metropolitan areas, you will probably go with Metro Ethernet services for your DCI," Casemore added. "Over longer, more geographically dispersed areas, this may be attractive to some folks. It will all depend on your workload and your applications and what you are trying to do."

If an IT organization needs to move a virtual machine from one OpenFlow-based network to another one, the UNC software orchestrates the changes without requiring manual modifications on the individual controllers, he said. UNC communicates with NEC's ProgrammableFlow controllers at the socket level, and it communicates with SDN applications and orchestration systems like OpenFlow through a northbound application programming interface.

The UNC can manage up to 10 controllers today but could manage more in the future, Clark said. It can coordinate control of 2,000 switches, 30,000 virtual networks, 100,000 VLANs and 10 million flows across those controllers.

Enterprises need data center interconnect and SDN orchestration

NEC's introduction of UNC is an indication that some enterprise customers are looking for SDN orchestration and flow control across the WAN, an area that commercial OpenFlow-based products haven't addressed to date, said Eric Hanselman, chief analyst with New York-based 451 Group.

"The controller's scope is whatever the scope of the network around them is," Hanselman said. "There ought to be some larger controlling entities that coordinate controllers. That ought to be the task of larger management software and orchestration systems. [But] what's happened is we haven't gotten to an environment where [vendors] are trying to do that for your typical enterprise. If you're a carrier, you have OSS systems that will coordinate that and create paths in each controller. NEC is saying that [enterprises] don't have that upper-level management capability."

NEC also announced integration with Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager. When System Center creates a virtual network, it is automatically instantiated in NEC's controllers. 

Let us know what you think about the story; email Shamus McGillicuddy, News Director or follow him on Twitter @ShamusTT.

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