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Advanced software-defined networking applications showcased

The 14th annual conference of international research networks last month was the scene of some startling demonstrations of the future of open-source networking.
Written by Rob O'Neill, Contributor

You may never have heard of GLIF, the Global Lambda Integrated Facility, but the consortium of international research networks' 14th annual conference in Queenstown, New Zealand, was a showcase for advanced developments in software-defined networking (SDN) and data-intensive big science applications.

Demonstrations included SDN exchanges and an SDN router that scales to 200,000 routes, up from just 15,000 a year ago.

Some sessions, such as that from Google engineer Josh Bailey titled "SDN: Big Freakin Fibs", even carried a note of triumph:

"At first, they said it didn't work, and then they said it didn't scale. See 100,000s of flows in OpenFlow hardware."

ZDNet tried to get a comment from Bailey last year on his SDN research, conducted in partnership with, among others, the University of Berkeley and this year's conference host Research and Education Network New Zealand (REANNZ), but none was forthcoming.

Google is an SDN leader, having connected its major datacentres with an SDN-based WAN dubbed B4.

REANNZ chief executive Steve Cotter was more forthcoming last week.

Cotter said progress is such that REANNZ could be able to replace its branded hardware routers with an SDN switch at a fraction of the cost within two years.

He said that New Zealand is a large-scale test bed for emerging SDN technology, where it is being taken out of universities and deployed in real network environments, such as at Wellington ISP CityLink.

Among world firsts demonstrated at the conference, he said, was the first SDN-only transit network exchanging traffic across multiple domains.

A team from the Czech Republic's CESNET demonstrated an adaptive network for media delivery, with automatic media content transcoding and resizing in networks. It has limited bandwidth to enable demanding applications in localities without 10Gbps connections.

REANNZ itself demonstrated a technology called FastLane, an SDN bandwidth on-demand solution that allows users to pay extra to prioritise particular data flows, giving control over bandwidth usage.

Cotter said that applications for FastLane could include prioritising network traffic from first responders in a natural disaster.

REANNZ, as conference host, delivered the first 100Gbps network across the Tasman for the conference to allow demonstrations of high-definition telehealth applications and for the use of the 90 delegates from 44 organisations from the 14 countries attending.

Cotter said that recent boosts to REANNZ's network put New Zealand researchers on par with their Australian counterparts for the first time. International traffic on the network has jumped, and much more collaborative research is under way.

Researchers are appreciating the difference, too, he said. In a 2011 survey, 29 percent of researchers said the REANNZ network is essential. This year, that rating lifted to 69 percent.

In January, REANNZ inked a new four-year deal with the government, which provides a third of the network's $4 million funding. Around $1 million comes from professional services, such as managing campus WANs and firewalls; the rest comes from membership fees.

Cotter took the reins at REANNZ after leaving the US Department of Energy's Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) in 2011.

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