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Meru and NEC SDN bring network virtualization to wireless

Combining Meru and NEC SDN, network pros can apply OpenFlow control and network virtualization provisioning to unified wired and wireless networks for joint management and policy enforcement.

Meru Networks and NEC are collaboratively building OpenFlow extensions that will stretch SDN control and automated virtual network provisioning across both wired and wireless networks.

The Meru and NEC SDN project aims to make the elusive single pane of glass, unified wired and wireless version of management a reality. In a unified setting, network engineers have visibility across wired and wireless network resources, and are able to apply policy and QoS in both environments.

Meru recently announced a strategy to let SDN controllers communicate with its own WLAN controllers to extend control across both physical switches and wireless LAN access points (APs). Eventually Meru will expose its APs directly to OpenFlow controllers.

Meanwhile, NEC’s ProgrammableFlow portfolio includes an SDN controller, OpenFlow-friendly switches and the virtualization provisioning platform Virtual Tenant Network (VTN) platform, which offers users the full visibility of network topology and allows them to provision virtual tenants in a drag-and-drop interface. VTN and ProgrammableFlow also allow network pros to manage all of their network resources as a single fabric.

"The ability to create virtual networks across the infrastructure for different policies and service levels is the value-add of VTN, and it only makes sense to extend that policy into the wireless space as well," said Don Clark, general manager of new business development at NEC.

In the early stages of the collaboration, Meru will extend VTN network provisioning to wireless environments, but down the road, the two companies will build extensions to OpenFlow that will expand how SDN can control wireless environments.

For now, WLAN engineers use basic VLANs to build distinct virtual tunnels with differing policies. For example, in an airport there might be separate VLANs for T-Mobile, United Airlines and then general airport use, explained Ajay Malik, senior vice president of engineering and quality assurance at Meru.

Using VTN, network engineers can extend virtual network tenants based upon these VLANs and apply distinct policy and service levels for each one.

"When you put on top of [a wireless network] an NEC switch and an SDN controller and the VTN application, the VTN application uses the VLAN as the primary distinguishing element for the tenant. Then it can have the same VLAN configured across NEC switches and the wireless switch using OpenFlow," said Ajay. United Airlines might apply a deeper level of quality of service than say the general-use VLAN.

As NEC and Meru develop extensions in OpenFlow networks, that kind of policy can be applied in even more granular ways.

"Going forward, instead of limiting this to the VLAN level, it can be done around applications, users or locations," said Malik.

The extensions will bring crucial information about underlying wireless network resources to the controller and in return, extend a deeper level of programmability. Whereas now, OpenFlow SDN controllers currently interpret source and destination information for every flow on a wired network, it doesn’t analyze the crucial data for wireless, such as SSID information or radio signal strength. This information is crucial for bringing both programmability and troubleshooting to wireless environments, Malik explained.

Clark says plenty of NEC SDN customers have already requested joint wired and wireless networking solutions, and the company’s engineers have figured out how to apply controls to legacy settings. This new strategy will extend those capabilities and meet demand.

Both NEC and Meru will not stop at their own partnership for unified wired and wireless. Each will align with a larger ecosystem of wireless, SDN and application providers.

Next Steps

SDN and WLAN meet for unified wireless management

SDN wireless technologies emerge

Dig Deeper on Software-defined networking

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