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Metaswitch aims virtual networking Calico 1.0 at the datacenter scalability problem

Integrated with OpenStack, Calico 1.0 is designed to enable datacenters to scale and at the same time remove some of the networking clutter.
Written by Toby Wolpe, Contributor on
Networking business general manager Andy Randall: Get rid of a whole layer of datacenter technology and replace it with something much simpler.
Image: Metaswitch
After several months working on enterprise trial deployments and evaluations, network specialist Metaswitch has unveiled the 1.0 version of the Calico cloud network virtualisation software it open-sourced in July last year.

Calico 1.0, which integrates with OpenStack through the Neutron API, is designed to remove restrictions on datacenter scalability by enabling secure IP communication between virtual machines, containers or bare-metal workloads.

"We came at it from the angle of people who had been trying to build large-scale cloud applications and seeing some of the challenges that there were with virtual networking capabilities in platforms like OpenStack," Metaswitch networking business general manager Andy Randall said.

"The challenges really are all around not just scalability, because that's a fairly one-dimensional thing, but robustness and diagnosability of problems when networks get into a state where things are not working right."

Calico dispenses with the layers of virtual networking and emulation of layer 2 Ethernet statements, according to Metaswitch.

"We've seen challenges with scaling up beyond a small number of a few hundred servers within a datacenter. We've seen challenges where people are not able to actually route data in the way they're expecting. So Calico was set up to get rid of a whole layer of the technology in the datacenter and replace it with something much simpler," Randall said.

Metaswitch said Calico provides firms with a more efficient way to build out datacenter networks than using overlays, tunnels, network address translation, and on- and off-ramps.

"There are a lot of players in the networking space and many of them have solutions for OpenStack networking. All of them, though, use some kind of tunnelling or encapsulation approach to virtual networking, where essentially what they're trying to do is to emulate in software all the workloads being connected to an Ethernet switch," Randall said.

"They try and present the workload as if they have their own virtual network in terms of a layer 2 segment. Calico is the only solution where we work at layer 3, where we don't try and do that very low-level emulation of an Ethernet switch.

"But instead we just say, 'Let's have all the workloads talk via IP and keep the traffic in IP and don't encapsulate and tunnel the traffic, which just massively reduces the state and simplifies the problem."

As well as among financials, large web companies, web retail operators, Metaswitch expects to find customers in firms building new microservice application datacenter infrastructures, and creating orchestration technology around Docker and OpenStack.

"They're looking at things like Docker and orchestration environments around that like Kubernetes and Mesosphere. Calico really stands out there because it's just really suitable for a microservice-type architecture because of the fine-grained security that it brings," he said.

OpenStack users can install Calico, which takes over the networking function of the default OpenStack deployment. Calico 1.0 is available for the Icehouse, Juno and Kilo releases of OpenStack.

"The idea is it should be fairly seamless to the operator in terms of how it plugs in and installs. There's a small daemon that will install on each host in the network and plug into whatever orchestrator you're using - and that's about it. Everything else takes care of itself," he said.

Ubuntu 14.04-based installations can be supported either through standard packages, Chef recipes, or Juju. There are also packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7. A certified Fuel 6.1 module can be used to support Mirantis distributions.

"The interesting thing is that you look at folks like Google and Microsoft and Amazon, who are obviously the ones who scale datacenters that are larger than anyone else, they've mostly invented their own techniques inhouse, which are not the ones that are being used by most enterprises out there," Randall said.

"Actually, if you look at what Microsoft has published about what they're doing in Azure, architecturally, Calico is quite similar to that, in that we are doing away with all of the layers of virtual networking and emulation of layer 2 Ethernet statements.

"If you look at the large enterprises, how they've typically scaled, what they've done is they've had to break their datacenters into smaller domains. Typically, you're not seeing many datacenters scaling above 80 to 100 servers as a single domain."

Calico 1.0 is available for download from GitHub or from the Metaswitch site. The company offers support and services for the software.

"We are, as a commercial organisation, offering support services and people can come to us and take those. But it's important for us that the open-source release is absolutely deployable at scale," he said.

"It's not just a teaser to get people interested and then if you want to actually get it to work you have to pay for a commercial version. We don't think that's the way to go with open-source projects to get them really widely adopted."

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