open-vswitchThere are a number of projects and vendors working to virtualise networking, which – beyond servers, clients and storage – needs urgent attention for the vision of utility computing to become a reality.
We recently took a look at Vyatta, a supplier producing software switches and routers running on standard x86 servers.
This week we’ve been looking at the Open Source Open vSwitch, which comes as part of Linux 3.3 distributions such as Ubuntu, Debian and Fedora. It’s essentially a hypervisor-networking stack used for automated and dynamic networking control in large-scale Linux-based virtual environments. It is used mainly for 2 purposes:

  • As a soft switch running in the server hypervisor (ESX, Xen, XenServer, KVM or Hyper-V) and used for purposes such as connected an entire VLAN into a Cloud data centre
  • As a control stack for switching silicon in x86 servers and 10Gb/s NIC cards

It uses the OpenFlow protocol for programming the forwarding plane from an outside controller and is integrated into the OpenStack Cloud orchestration layer. Commercially Open vSwitch vendors such as Nicica and Citrix are using it to create competitive products to VMware’s vSwitch and Cisco’s Nexus 1000v. In the case of Nicira the offering includes a number of services connected into network services APIs, including:

  • WAN optimisation
  • Load balancing
  • L3 Routing
  • Firewall
  • Monitoring
  • Quality of Service (QoS)
  • Tenant and Port isolation
  • L2 Switching

Nicira also has an impressive list of customers, including AT&T, eBay, Fidelity Investments, NTT and Rackspace. From a virtualisation point of view it looks as if Citrix is the leader, incorporating Open vSwitch as a default into XenServer 6.0, although we also had a chance to hear about Red Hat developments at their developer conference in Boston last week.
As in other areas of virtualisation VMware got there first and many suppliers, aggregators and large end-users are working on an Open Source alternative. Virtualising networks is a complicated process, but necessary if Fabric Computing is to become a reality. It looks as if, rather than being a network hypervisor in its own right, OpenStack, OpenFlow and Open vSwitch projects aim to add automated network virtualisation to server hypervising. We’re looking to profile more rainmaking developments in this area.

Image Credit: Martin Hingley

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