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Alcatel-Lucent uncloaks its software-defined network tech

Troubled company dispatches SDN lifeboat named Nuage Networks

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Alcatel-Lucent subsidiary Nuage Networks has leaped into the crowded money-pit of software-defined networking (SDN) with a technology suite designed for carriers and large enterprises.

The "Virtualized Services Platform" (VSP), announced on Tuesday by Nuage, is a proprietary network virtualization overlay that uses distributed routing and switching to virtualize layers two through four of the networking stack, and is based in part on Alcatel-Lucent's Service Router Operating System.

The product package is targeted at service providers and cloud vendors that need to create, migrate, and shutdown VMs in a fast-paced network environment across multiple data centers.

Pricing was not disclosed, but is likely to be high due to a combination of its target customers and the opaque pricing of the SDN industry. We pressed Alcatel's head of Core Networks, Basil Alwan, for prices and he refused to reveal any numbers, but did say "there's a price for it, but it's of very high-value to customers." (This sounds a lot like a "How much can they afford?" pricing model, but what do we know?)

VSP sits on top of standard data-center gear and supports the Xen, KVM, and VMware ESXi hypervisors (and by association, the vCloud Director 5.1, OpenStack, and CloudStack 4.0 cloud management suites). The whole package is compatible with the OpenFlow open-source SDN protocol, which is fast becoming a standard.

Like other SDN technologies, VSP virtualizes the network infrastructure and automatically creates connectivity among compute resources.

VSP has three key components: the Virtualized Services Director (VSD), which lets admins set policy and analyse overall network performance, the Virtualized Services Controller (VSC), which does the heavy-lifting administrative task of programming the network forwarding plane via the OpenFlow protocol, and Virtual Routing and Switching (VRS), which is an enhanced implementation of Open vSwitch that handles the network forwarding plane. Bare metal servers and/or appliances can hook into the VSP via this layer.

A VRS instance sits inside every hypervisor. The VRS receives policy info from the VSD and/or routes from other VSCs, and uses this data to calculate flow-forwarding for each VM. It then sends this forwarding info to the VRS's inside every hypervisor, which will then determine how and if a packet arriving from a VM can be forwarded. This decision is made based on L2, L3, and L4 fields of the packet header, according to Nuage Networks' chief architect Dimitri Stiliadis.

VSP sees Nuage Networks getting a little help from its friends, with the troubled company partnering with Citrix, F5 Networks, Palo Alto Networks, and HP for various VSP-add-on products due to be released over the coming months, including virtual firewalls, extended CloudStack and OpenStack support, and virtual VSP-aware load balancers.

The technology has been trialed by UK cloud service provider Exponential-e [Who?—Ed.], French telco SFR, and the University of Pittsburgh's Medical Center, among others.

SDN, like virtualised infrastructure management (cloud computing), and large-scale data analysis (big data), is becoming another strategic battleground for tech companies. But Alcatel-subsidiary Nuage has, as they say in boxing circles, heart, as it represents a lifeboat for its company.

"The world has changed – Alcatel-Lucent is in a big transition right now," Alwan says. "IP is at the center of everything we're doing. The future is not just about telcos or not just about compute, it's about the combination."

With established vendors such as Cisco, Arista, Juniper, and Brocade frantically pumping out gobs of jargon-heavy SDN PR like there's no tomorrow, and with plucky startups such as Big Switch Networks, VMware-backed Nicira, Midokura, and now Nuage Networks producing their own fair share of smoke, differentiating among SDN implementations is an increasingly difficult proposition – and this Vulture thinks it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Remember how long it took for cloud vendors to start flirting with honesty? ®

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