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Indiana University Expands SDN Research Lab

InCNTRE, the first test bed for OpenFlow and other software-defined networking products, brings Fortune 500 companies and researchers together to advance the protocol.

Indiana University's network research unit, the Indiana Center for Network Translational Research (InCNTRE), is now serving as a test bed for OpenFlow and other software-defined networking (SDN) products. On Wednesday, it hosted the kickoff meeting of a new business user group devoted to software-defined networking.

The InCNTRE Software-Defined Networking User Group (ISUG) brought together network administrators from Fortune 500 companies in finance, insurance, healthcare and travel, according to Matthew Davy, executive director of InCNTRE.

"Private sector network engineers, network architects and IT managers are busy getting up to speed on software-defined networking and trying to understand how it will affect their networks," said Davy in an announcement of the meeting on the InCNTRE website. "Given our expertise, it made perfect sense to form the ISUG as a way to facilitate the flow of information between IU's SDN experts and the private sector," he said.

The OpenFlow protocol separates the control plane from the forwarding plane in switches, so that software applications on a central controller can issue instructions to switches and routers to change the nature of the network.

InCNTRE's Interoperability Lab has been designated a neutral testing facility for OpenFlow and other SDN products. It's the first test lab designated by the Open Networking Foundation to certify that products meet its OpenFlow standard. The OpenFlow protocol is still a young specification with only a few implementations. Early implementers often struggle to get their products to work together, even though they are all trying to follow the same standard. Indiana University operates the interoperability lab in conjunction with Purdue University.

[ Want to learn how OpenFlow fits into VMware's plans for the software-defined data center? See VMware Buys Nicira: Start Of Networking Wars? ]

The foundation's member companies may submit products to the lab for OpenFlow certification, which first became available in December.

The first meeting of the InCNTRE SDN User Group included a presentation by Dan Pitt, executive director of the Open Networking Foundation, and a discussion with InCNTRE test engineers, who are leading the development of the certification testing program. In addition, attendees were given a demonstration of the OpenFlow backbone for Internet2, running coast to coast. It was built by the Global Network Research Operations Center jointly operated in Indianapolis by Indiana University and Purdue. It is the second nationwide OpenFlow backbone. The first was built by Google.

InCNTRE was the host of a the second OpenFlow "plugfest" Oct. 8-12, 2012, where 20 Open Networking Foundation member companies tested OpenFlow products for interoperability and compliance with the OpenFlow 1.0, 1.1 and 1.2 standards.

The number of participants was double that of the initial plugfest event, said Mike Haugh, senior product manager at Ixia, a converged IP networking test firm, and chair of the ONF Testing & Interoperability Working Group. "We not only saw growth in participants and products being tested, but we also saw a movement towards commercial controllers" becoming available on the market, he said in an ONF announcement after the event.

Spirient Communications worked with the test lab last year to develop Python conformance test suites for Ethernet switches operating in high security networks and IP-based mobile networks. The tests were added to the open source OFTest, or OpenFlow testing sequence.

The October plugfest allowed NEC to test its OpenFlow product, the NEC ProgrammableFlow controller, "with nearly 20 vendors in a single week," said Su-Hun Yun, NEC senior business development manager. "This event was an excellent opportunity for us to test our equipment," he said.

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