The second presenter on day one of Network Field Day 2 was NEC. I didn’t know a whole lot about their networking initiatives going into the presentation, even though I knew they were a manufacturer of VoIP systems among a variety of other things. What I saw really impressed me.
After a quick company overview by John Wise, we dove right into what NEC is bringing to market in the OpenFlow arena. I’ve posted some links to OpenFlow overviews already, so it was nice to see how NEC had built the technology into their ProgrammableFlow product line. NEC has a shipping ProgrammableFlow Controller (PFC) as well as ProgrammableFlow switches. This was a very interesting change of pace, as most vendors I’ve heard from recently have announced support for OpenFlow, but no plans for shipping any equipment that runs it right now.
The PFC is a Linux-based system that supports OpenFlow v1.0. It allows you to deploy multi-tenant networks on the same physical infrastructure as well as providing location independence. The PFC can be located anywhere and isn’t restricted to being deployed next to the switches that it supports. The PFC allows you to do topology discovery via LLDP to find devices as well as more advanced features like fault detection and even self repair. This is a great boon to network rock stars that can use the controller to fix problems as they occur without the need to leave their chair and start recabling their data center on the fly. The PFC also supports graphic network creation, with the interface being as simple as creating a Visio drawing. Except this Visio is a real network.
The ProgrammableFlow switch is a 48-port gigabit switch with 4 SFP+ uplinks capable of 10GBE. It functions as a hybrid switch, allowing OpenFlow networks to be connected to a traditional L2/L3 environment. This a wonderful for those that want to try out OpenFlow without wrecking their existing infrastructure. A great idea going forward, as OpenFlow is designed to be overlaid without disturbing your current setup. By providing a real shipping product to customers, NEC can begin to leverage the power of the coming OpenFlow storm to capitalize on a growing market.
Next we got a quick overview of the OpenNetworking Foundation and NEC’s participation in it. What is of note here is that the board members are all consumers of technology, not the producers. The producers are members, but not the steering committee. In my mind, this ensures that OpenFlow will always reflect what the users want from it and not what the vendors want it to become. NEC has provided us with a physical switch and controller to leverage OpenFlow and has even committed to providing support for a virtualized Hyper-V vSwitch in Windows 8. This means that NEC will hit the ground running when Microsoft starts using the tools built into Windows 8 to virtualize large numbers of servers. Whether or not this will be enough to unseat the VMware monster is anyone’s guess, but it never hurts to get in on the ground level.
I missed out on most of the demo of the ProgrammableFlow system in the second half of the presentation due to reality intruding on my serene Network Field Day world, but the video was interesting. I’m going to spend a little time in the coming weeks doing some more investigation into what ProgrammableFlow has to offer.
I want video! Part 1: NEC Introduction
Part 2: ProgrammableFlow Architecture and Use Cases
Part 3: ProgrammableFlow Demonstration
Okay, show of hands: who knew NEC made switches? They rarely get mentioned in the same breath with Cisco, Juniper, or HP. When it seems that the market has left you behind the best way to catch up is to move markets. NEC has really embraced the concept of OpenFlow and I think it’s going to pay off handsomely for them. By having one of the first shipping devices for OpenFlow integration and making it widely known to the networking consumer, NEC can reap the benefits of interesting in OpenFlow while other vendors ramp up to enter the market. There’s something to be said for getting there first, and NEC has surely done that. Now the trick will be taking that advantage and reaping what they have sown.
Tech Field Day Disclaimer
NEC was a sponsor of Network Field Day 2, as as such was responsible for paying a portion of my travel and lodging fees. They also provided us with a USB drive containing marketing information and the presentation we were given. We also received an NEC coffee mug and a set of children’s building blocks with NEC logos and slogans screenprinted on them. At no time did NEC ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the drafting of this review. The analysis and opinions herein are mine and mine alone.