The future of university research? We’re ready.

By Scott Yoest

We’re all fortunate to be living in a time when unprecedented technological advancements are helping to save lives and open many new doors of opportunity for people around the globe. What IT innovations will occur over the next decade? We can only guess, but as one of the nation’s top computing and information science schools, we need to provide our research community with a flexible network that can support their work today, as well as technologies and workflows yet to be conceived.

When we were designing the IT infrastructure for our new Gates Hall, we decided to use software-defined networking (SDN) and the OpenFlow™ protocol. Although SDN is relatively new, we needed its flexibility and increased controls to support a myriad of research and production environments, which is critical for future-proofing our infrastructure. SDN moves hardware control from individual switches to software-based solutions. It can also automate some processes, so management can take less time and we can be more agile in responding to new requirements.

Our network is based on Dell Networking S4810 and S4820T switches, as well as the traditional technologies used by existing campus networks. We chose the Dell S4810 and S4820T switches because they can support the OpenFlow SDN protocol. To make sure our researchers can push the network to its limits without slowing performance or reliability for other users, we configured four control and data planes: two for research traffic and two for production. We use an enterprise-grade NEC® ProgrammableFlow SDN Controller writing to OpenFlow 1.3 for our production planes. In the research planes, our researchers use various SDN solutions depending on project requirements.

The new network provides more bandwidth for everyone. Now instead of limiting network usage to just one research group, today four or more groups can use it concurrently. At the same time, we cut our network footprint in half in Gates Hall, compared to our previous environment, by using a flatter network topology. And by adding some new Dell PowerEdge T630 serverswith Intel® Xeon® processors, we accelerated the performance of some 3D computing environments by 200 percent.

The future transformations facilitated by SDN will be sizable — somewhat similar in nature to those brought about by server virtualization. Being on the leading edge of SDN adoption helps us accomplish more in terms of research, and gives us the opportunity to design technologies that will help organizations control the network in the new software-defined age. To learn more about our SDN implementation, read this case study.

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