REANNZ deploys NZ’s first organisation-wide SDN switch

Simply put, SDN does for networks what the personal computer did for computing.

National research organisation REANNZ is running its Wellington office entirely on a Software-Defined Networking (SDN) switch, believed to be the first organisation in New Zealand to deploy this technology across the whole business.

Operating as New Zealand’s own national research and education network (NREN), REANNZ hopes the move will further provide Kiwi researchers and scientists with the ultra fast network that allows them to store and share data and collaborate with other researchers in New Zealand and around the world in real-time.

REANNZ was one of the first NRENs in the world to start experimenting with SDN.

Wanting to build interest in SDN in New Zealand, REANNZ network engineers started collaborating with academics and students at the University of Waikato and Victoria University in early 2012.

Since March of this year, REANNZ engineers have taken their work a step further and have deployed an SDN switch in their Wellington offices, which is believed to be a first for New Zealand and leading the way on the international stage.

“SDN lets you, as a network owner, run open source software on commodity routing and switching hardware,” says Steve Cotter, CEO, REANNZ.

According to Cotter, modern day switches and routers are still vertically integrated, meaning one vendor provides the hardware, operating system and the entire software stack on top.

“SDN is different,” he adds, “it defines a framework where a network operator can purchase standardised hardware from one vendor, deploy an operating system of their choice, select a controller to drive the hardware and then deploy applications on top of this.”

Simply put, Cotter believes SDN does for networks what the personal computer did for computing.

For Cotter, a few decades ago a ‘computer’ was a large proprietary mainframe controlled by a single vendor.

The arrival of the personal computer meant a user could choose their own hardware, deploy an operating system and install applications of their choice on top, or even write their own.

Going forward, Cotter believes SDN opens up the possibility of a suite of open source software, putting the power back in the hands of network operators, both big and small.

As a result, Cotter says he is confident that SDN is the future of networking, and a technology that his organisation needs to be experimenting with early.

“As the Crown-owned company responsible for providing advanced networking capabilities to our country’s best and brightest minds, we see it as our duty to play an active role in the innovation of leading edge networking technology, and this includes SDN,” he says.

“The REANNZ office deployment acts as a prototype, and is the first step in making SDN available to our members, including all New Zealand universities, Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) and leading Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs).

“As we speak, we are testing the new technology in a live environment, fixing bugs and experimenting with new features. It is an exciting time in networking.

“Our network engineers are some of the best in the world. Giving them the opportunity to play a key role in the development of this new technology is vital to New Zealand’s research and education community, and the global NREN community.”

Cotter’s confidence in the technology is echoed by Dr Richard Nelson from WAND Network Research Group at the University of Waikato, who has been experimenting with this rapidly developing technology alongside REANNZ.

“REANNZ is a leader in promoting, developing and using SDN in New Zealand,” Dr Nelson says. “They have forged international links that provide us with the opportunities equal or better to anywhere else in the world.

“SDN has traditionally been focused on datacenters, but most of the research and development work in New Zealand has been aimed at Wide Area Networks (WANs), creating potential for innovation.”

If widely deployed, Dr Nelson believes SDN could “add great value” to the country’s universities, CRIs and ITPs both by reducing costs and allowing greater independence for network operators.

As echoed by Cotter, Dr Nelson thinks SDN can help reduce costs for campus network infrastructure, as vendors will no longer need to develop and maintain the software for their products any longer, making the hardware on its own cheaper for network operators to purchase than a traditional alternative.

In addition to cost-savings there is added value for these institutions.

When smarter firewalls and new protocols are released, campus network operators won’t need to buy a new piece of equipment or wait for vendors to supply the required software - they can deploy their own software and test as they go, giving them greater independence and opportunity to provide solutions that meet the exact needs of their network.

“This is the true value of SDN,” Cotter adds. “It has the ability to make networks much more powerful than ever before, limited only by our imagination, instead of the marketplace.”

The REANNZ SDN project has been tested on hardware provided by Accton Technology Corporation and Allied Telesis.

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