If you’ve been following Networking Field Day 5 or even the posts that I have derived from the content and presentations from the event, you realize that software defined networking was the major topic and theme of the event. Each of the vendors have their own approaches, special sauce, or interesting methods of using standards based protocols. Those in marketing might call this their unique value proposition. In many cases, the hardware to support the software defined networking or hybrid approach might be almost identical to that of traditional autonomous based approaches. Only one vendor fell far outside this criteria by designing radically different hardware and software solution that truly gave them a unique value proposition.
The SDN vendor I am talking about is Plexxi. What makes Plexxi unique is what they call affinity networking. The thought process is that endpoints in a typical network have different types of relationships. Plexxi calls these relationships affinities. In some relationships, devices talk a lot. In other relationships, the conversations may be short and sporadic. Maybe there are cases when lots of bandwidth is required, but not all of the time. Plexxi believes that if an application can understand these relationships, the network could be reconfigured to optimally support the needs of the devices and applications. The examples and statistics provided in the presentation were from a well design datacenter network.
At first glance, this seems far fetched. The reason it seems far fetched to us is that we tend to think of things in terms of our current technologies and their limitations. So while it seems that an application like the one mentioned could tell us where performance bottlenecks are, there would be manual intervention required to move the bandwidth around a datacenter or network. While understanding affinities could be quite interesting, it’s also a bit useless without a solution to dynamically move bandwidth around inside the network. Plexxi also foresaw this issue and did a pretty neat trick with their switches to overcome it.
The way Plexxi addresses dynamic bandwidth allocation inside their network is quite different. Basically, all Plexxi Switches are connected together to form a ring topology. The connections are fiber optic using coarse wavelength devision multiplexing. Bandwidth is allocated by pairing switches on a given wavelength or groups of wavelengths. When wavelength isn’t meant for a given switch in a Plexxi ring, it passes through that switch photonically to the next switch in the ring. By allowing software to control the wavelengths that switches should transmit and receive, the bandwidth can be dynamically moved around the network as necessary. The result is sort of like a layer 1.5 switch.
The video below describes affinity networking and how Plexxi solves challenges with SDN and CWDM
Paul’s Take—As I mentioned earlier, Plexxi was the one Networking Field Day vendor that designed a radically different software and hardware approach to networking. Seeing a vendor think outside of the box is throughly refreshing. I believe some of the problems Plexxi is attempting to solve are certainly valid. The one thing I struggle with personally is whether an elegant solution like this can cost effectively build to overbuilding a network. While I think it is possible, time will tell how these technologies are adopted and implemented. I think one of the more interesting use may occur if high powered optics are used to create datacenter interconnects using the flexibility of a Plexxi ring.
Other Plexxi Videos From Networking Field Day 5
- Mat Mathews and Derick Winkworth introduce the Plexxi Presentation
- Simon McCormack Details How Application Relationships Drive Plexxi’s Controller
Information From Plexxi’s Blog
Plexxi Articles From Other Networking Field Day Delegates
Disclaimer: Plexxi was a sponsor for Networking Field Day 5. As a result, their sponsorship covered a portion of the cost of my travel and expenses associated with my attendance to this event. This article itself was written without any restrictions or requirement to do so. My opinions on this product are my own and are accurately reflected.