ECSEL leverages OpenFlow to demonstrate new network directions


ESnet and its collaborators successfully completed three days of demonstrating its End-to-End Circuit Service at Layer 2 (ECSEL) software at the Open Networking Summit held at Stanford a couple of weeks ago. Our goal is to build “zero-configuration circuits” to help science applications seamlessly use networks for optimized end-to-end data transport. ECSEL, developed in collaboration with NEC, Indiana University, and the University of Delaware builds on some exciting new conceptual thinking in networking.

Wrangling Big Data 

To put ECSEL in context, the proliferating tide of scientific data flows – anticipated at 2 petabytes per second as planned large-scale experiments get in motion – is already challenging networks to be exponentially more efficient. Wide area networks have vastly increased bandwidth and enable flexible, distributed, scientific workflows that involve connecting multiple scientific labs to a supercomputing site, a university campus, or even a cloud data center.

Heavy network traffic to come

The increasing adoption of distributed, service-oriented computing means that resource and vendor independence for service delivery is a key priority for users. Users expect seamless end-to-end performance and want the ability to send data flows on demand, no matter how many domains and service providers are involved.  The hitch is that even though the Wide Area Network (WAN) can have turbocharged bandwidth, at these exponentially increasing rates of network traffic even a small blockage in the network can seriously impair the flow of data, trapping users in a situation resembling commute conditions on sluggish California freeways. These scientific data transport challenges that we and other R&E networks face are just a taste of what the commercial world will encounter with the increasing popularity of cloud computing and service-driven cloud storage.

Abstracting a solution

One of the key feedback from application developers, scientists and end-users is that they do not want to deal with the complexity at the infrastructure level while still accomplishing their mission. At ESnet, we are exploring various ways to make networks work better for users. A couple of concepts could be game-changers, according to Open Network Summit conference presenter and Berkeley professor Scott Shenker: 1) using abstraction to manage network complexity, and 2) extracting and exposing simplicity out of the network. Shenker himself cites Barbara Liskov’s Turing Lecture as inspiration.

ECSEL is leveraging OSCARS and OpenFlow within the Software Defined Networking (SDN) paradigm to elegantly prevent end-to-end network traffic jams.  OpenFlow is an open standard to allow application-driven manipulation of network flows. ECSEL is using OSCARS-controlled MPLS virtual circuits with OpenFlow to dynamically stitch together a seamless data plane delivering services over multi-domain constructs.  ECSEL also provides an additional level of simplicity to the application, as it can discover host-network interconnection points as necessary, removing the requirement of applications being “statically configured” with their network end-point connections. It also enables stitching of the paths end-to-end, while allowing each administrative entity to set and enforce its own policies. ECSEL can be easily enhanced to enable users to verify end-to-end performance, and dynamically select application-specific protocol forwarding rules in each domain.

The OpenFlow capabilities, whether it be in an enterprise/campus or within the data center, were demonstrated with the help of NEC’s ProgrammableFlow Switch (PFS) and ProgrammableFlow Controller (PFC). We leveraged a special interface developed by them to program a virtual path from ingress to egress of the OpenFlow domain. ECSEL accessed this special interface programmatically when executing the end-to-end path stitching workflow.

Our anticipated next step is to develop ECSEL as an end-to-end service by making it an integral part of a scientific workflow. The ECSEL software will essentially act as an abstraction layer, where the host (or virtual machine) doesn’t need to know how it is connected to the network–the software layer does all the work for it, mapping out the optimum topologies to direct data flow and make the magic happen. To implement this, ECSEL is leveraging the modular architecture and code of the new release of OSCARS 0.6.  Developing this demonstration yielded sufficient proof that well-architected and modular software with simple APIs, like OSCARS 0.6, can speed up the development of new network services, which in turn validates the value-proposition of SDN. But we are not the only ones who think that ECSEL virtual circuits show promise as a platform for spurring further innovation. Vendors such as Brocade and Juniper, as well as other network providers attending the demo were enthusiastic about the potential of ECSEL.

But we are just getting started. We will reprise the ECSEL demo at SC11 in Seattle, this time with a GridFTP application using Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) which has been modified to include the XSP (eXtensible Session Protocol) that acts as a signaling mechanism enabling the application to become “network aware.”  XSP, conceived and developed by Martin Swany and Ezra Kissel of Indiana University and University of Delaware,  can directly interact with advanced network services like OSCARS – making the creation of virtual circuits transparent to the end user. In addition, once the application is network aware, it can then make more efficient use of scalable transport mechanisms like RDMA for very large data transfers over high capacity connections.

We look forward to seeing you there and exchanging ideas. Until Seattle, any questions or proposals on working together on this or other solutions to the “Big Data Problem,” don’t hesitate to contact me.

–Inder Monga

imonga@es.net

ECSEL Collaborators:

Eric Pouyoul, Vertika Singh (summer intern), Brian Tierney: ESnet

Samrat Ganguly, Munehiro Ikeda: NEC

Martin Swany, Ahmed Hassany: Indiana University

Ezra Kissel: University of Delaware

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