Testing Challenges for Modern Networks Built Using SDN and OpenFlow

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1 Using SDN and OpenFlow July 2013 Rev. A 07/13

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3 SPIRENT 1325 Borregas Avenue Sunnyvale, CA USA Web: AMERICAS SPIRENT EUROPE AND THE MIDDLE EAST +44 (0) ASIA AND THE PACIFIC Spirent. All Rights Reserved. All of the company names and/or brand names and/or product names referred to in this document, in particular, the name Spirent and its logo device, are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Spirent plc and its subsidiaries, pending registration in accordance with relevant national laws. All other registered trademarks or trademarks are the property of their respective owners. The information contained in this document is subject to change without notice and does not represent a commitment on the part of Spirent. The information in this document is believed to be accurate and reliable; however, Spirent assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or inaccuracies that may appear in the document.

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5 Testing Challenges for Modern Networks Built CONTENTS Introduction....1 Understanding SDN and OpenFlow...2 A new Perspective on the Network...3 The Benefits of SDN and OpenFlow...4 Common Benefits...4 Enterprise Benefits...4 Service Provider Benefits...5 Summing up the Benefits....5 Moving SDN Foreword....6 Emerging Test Challenges....7 SDN/OpenFlow Testing...8 Conclusions...9 SPIRENT WHITE PAPER i

6 INTRODUCTION Networks must continue to evolve for a variety of reasons. For example, network traffic continues to see very high rates of growth. According to Internet World statistics, 2.4 billion individuals or over one third of the Earth s entire population used the Internet in The Cisco Visual Networking Index indicates that global IP traffic will surpass the zettabyte threshold by the end of 2016, with a forecast of 1.3 zettabytes for the year or exabytes per month. There are also ongoing shifts in the type of traffic crossing networks. The Cisco Visual Networking Index reveals that the number of mobile devices connected to IP networks in 2016 will be nearly three times as high as the global population at that time. The index also shows that video traffic will represent 55% of all consumer Internet traffic that year and that video on demand will grow to the equivalent of 4 billion DVDs per month. Emerging network deployment scenarios, such as virtualized and cloud environments inside hyper-scale data centers, are also straining existing network technologies and architectures. Dan Pitt, Executive Director of the Open Networking Foundation has described three key challenges faced by traditional networking cost, agility and design. A closer look at each of these challenges sheds light on the scope of change required to keep up with evolving network demands: Cost As with other types of infrastructure, significant up-front capital spending (CapEx) is required in order to build a large network. Additionally, ongoing operating expenditures (OpEx) in the form of management tools and staffing also add to the cost. Agility Today s globally competitive world not only demands cost-effective solutions, it requires fast time-to-market so that new services can be made available quickly. Once these new services are available, they must also support rapid, on-demand provisioning and re-provisioning. Design Traditional networks were not designed for virtualized and cloud environments or for other on-demand service models. Unfortunately this means they can become a bottleneck for server virtualization. They may also fall short when it comes to east-west traffic performance. It turns out that a new approach to networking, called software-defined networking (SDN), and an associated protocol, OpenFlow, address each of these challenges and more. Yet, while SDN and OpenFlow hold tremendous promise, they are also disruptive to several aspects of the network ecosystem, including network testing. 1 SPIRENT WHITE PAPER

7 UNDERSTANDING SDN AND OPENFLOW Understanding SDN and OpenFlow is helped by first considering how traditional network devices operate. Most of today s switches and routers are responsible for both the control and data planes. The control plane determines which packets are forwarded where, and the data plane actually forwards them. However, as server virtualization and cloud computing gain broader adoption, limitations in this approach have become more severe. Since each network element in these traditional IP networks is an autonomous system with a view of the network mostly limited to the next hop, there is no end-to-end view of traffic flows. This introduces a few challenges. For example, in heavily virtualized data centers and cloud computing environments, it is difficult to ensure that traffic is properly routed as virtual machines migrate from host to host. As shown in the figure below, SDN changes the traditional approach by separating the control and data planes and centralizing control for all network devices in a single controller that often runs on a general-purpose server. SDN also allows applications, to be written above the controller so that complex, end-to-end network configurations can be made through API calls thus the software defined in SDN. Applications API Control Plane API Network Operating System Data Plane Hardware Abstraction Layer Switching Silicon/HW SPIRENT WHITE PAPER 2

8 OpenFlow, shown between the control plane and the data plane in the diagram, is a Layer 2 communications protocol that enables SDN. OpenFlow-enabled controllers and switches communicate with each other through the OpenFlow protocol that supports a small number of primitives such as modify forwarding table and get stats. The OpenFlow protocol ensures that network configuration changes made in the controller are quickly distributed to all appropriate switches and routers. Note that other protocols beyond OpenFlow can be used to distribute forwarding rules. A new Perspective on the Network Traditional switches and routers are typically monolithic, tightly integrated, proprietary closed appliances built on custom silicon. While devices from multiple vendors can interoperate within an IP network, they generally have custom control planes that lead to vastly different administrative interfaces, management tools and value-added features. To ensure consistency throughout a network, it is common for equipment from a single vendor to be used. SDN-based networks instead take an open and modular approach. Intelligent switches and routers become a set of simplified, distributed traffic forwarders, taking their guidance from a centralized controller such as an OpenFlow controller. Rather than relying on custom silicon with proprietary control plane logic, the distributed traffic forwarders can be built on more generic devices such as x86 servers. Applications are then written to guide the SDN controller in making end-to-end switching and routing decisions. SDN applications open up a far greater range of possibilities when it comes to controlling the network. For example, SDN applications may deliver firewall, load balancer, intrusion detection and other network capabilities. Various types of network virtualization applications will also be written. In fact, network virtualization is so closely associated with SDN that many in the industry incorrectly equate the two. The reality is that network virtualization in the SDN world is really just another SDN application. 3 SPIRENT WHITE PAPER

9 THE BENEFITS OF SDN AND OPENFLOW Both enterprise organizations and service providers alike have plenty to gain from the adoption of SDN and OpenFlow. Some of these benefits are unique to enterprise networks while others are unique to service provider networks. There are also a number of benefits that both types of networks can enjoy. Common Benefits The greatest driver of disruption as well as benefits from SDN and OpenFlow is likely to come from opening up the developer ecosystem, enabling a larger number of developers to contribute to the advancement of networking. Prior to SDN, nearly all developers of switch and router technology were employees of network equipment vendors. While these vendors have many of the best and brightest in the industry, separating out the network control plane means that just about any innovative developer can now create an SDN application to control the network. Would you like to create service paths and tunnels? There will be an app for that. Would you like an easy way to configure quality of service (QoS) for a particular application or set of users? There will be an app for that too. This is not to suggest that SDN applications will install for $.99 from an app store. It is really meant to illustrate that switch and router functionality will be developed and made available separately from underlying hardware. Rather than waiting for your network equipment vendor of choice to deliver a given capability, an OpenFlow-based SDN application will typically run on all OpenFlow enabled devices just as soon as it is released. Hardware advancements are also expected to happen more quickly as OpenFlow and SDN are more broadly adopted. For example, more switches and routers that are only responsible for the data plane will be implemented on general-purpose servers. As soon as Intel or AMD release a new processor, new servers presumably with higher performance will immediately be available to serve as faster switches and routers. Enterprise Benefits One of the more common trends in enterprise IT in recent years has been the virtualization and consolidation of data centers. While most of the focus has been on server virtualization, network virtualization has an important role to play as well. When virtual machines (VMs) move from one host to another all related network traffic must follow immediately. A network virtualization application on an OpenFlow network will enable immediate and automated reconfiguration of forwarding rules. This keeps traffic flowing to the right VMs and their applications. It also avoids sending traffic to a host that should no longer receive it. SPIRENT WHITE PAPER 4

10 Service Provider Benefits Network service providers (NSPs) also have much to gain with SDN and OpenFlow. In fact, SDN and OpenFlow can be used for much more than controlling packet forwarding. As packets travel through the network, service providers can request OpenFlow-enabled devices to log a variety of information. This can be used to get an end-to-end view of their entire network, including firewalls, deep packet inspection (DPI) systems, switches and routers. NSPs will likely use a variety of SDN applications to add or extend passive capabilities such as traffic monitoring and active capabilities such as bandwidth steering. They should also be able to gain better control over traffic flows from individual customers and perhaps even put that control in the hands of their customers. Summing up the Benefits Earlier we discussed the three key challenges of traditional networking, including cost, agility and design. Together, SDN and OpenFlow offer improvements in each of those areas: Cost SDN networks can reduce CapEx by using lower cost traffic-forwarding devices built with generic x86 servers. Centralized management and control enabled by SDN also reduces ongoing OpEx Agility SDN networks can overcome the more static limitations of current network devices, supporting faster rollouts of new services, as well as, more rapid, on-demand provisioning and reprovisioning of existing services Design SDN networks support nearly every configuration and topology. This is particularly helpful for virtualized and cloud environments and other on-demand service models. 5 SPIRENT WHITE PAPER

11 MOVING SDN FOREWORD SDN is in the process of moving into production networks. However, adoption is still fairly limited. At the same time, there are already some good proof points to be found. For example, Google has been vocal in its use of SDN. The company has rolled out an SDN implementation across its WAN, saying the WAN is now higher performance, more fault-tolerant, and cheaper. While new network devices that support SDN are coming to market all the time, most existing devices do not support OpenFlow or SDN. A number of organizations are working to increase adoption and ensure interoperability. The two most commonly known organizations are: Open Network Foundation (ONF) The mission of ONF is to commercialize and promote SDN and the underlying technologies as a disruptive approach to networking that will change how virtually every company with a network operates InCNTRE The Indiana Center for Network Translational Research and Education (InCNTRE) at Indiana University is a hub of education, research, training and development for the adoption of OpenFlow and other standardsbased Software-Defined Networking (SDN) technologies Keep each of them in mind as you plot your course toward SDN. SPIRENT WHITE PAPER 6

12 EMERGING TEST CHALLENGES Software defined networks do not always behave intuitively. In fact, depending on the configuration, they may seem to break the rules of traditional IP networks. Robust testing is the only reliable way to ensure they are working properly. Fortunately, some testing methods remain the same for SDN and OpenFlow networks. For example, end-toend tests in these networks are quite similar to tests in more traditional networks. What has changed is the internal plumbing. One significant change in the plumbing is the shift from hardware-only implementations to a combination of hardware and software. SDN and OpenFlow networks rely much more on software running on general-purpose servers. This means a certain amount of fundamental testing must be revisited. Do MPLS rules and policies still behave as expected? How do these nodes handle line rate traffic? What happens under extreme load conditions? The simple fact that SDN and OpenFlow are relatively new also drives additional testing challenges. APIs, protocols and vendor implementations must all be thoroughly tested to ensure compliance with standards, as well as, interoperability between various implementations. The addition of new SDN applications also drives the need for more testing. Since these applications change the behavior of the network, validation testing should take place for each new application and each new application revision. Other forms of testing are also critical. These include performance, availability, security and scale testing also known as PASS. Performance The addition of more software-based components has the potential to impact performance on the network. This may include throughput and latency during normal network conditions and under stress conditions. Availability With the centralization of the control plane, SDN controllers become an important aspect of network availability. They must keep up with changes communicated by applications and devices, even during periods of rapid change. Security Unapproved applications should not be able to change network configurations through the SDN controller. Similarly, rogue entities should not be able to change individual device configurations. Fuzz testing can be an important element of security testing in the SDN world. Scale Scale cuts across many dimensions in SDN and OpenFlow networks. Not only must controllers scale to handle large networks, they must scale to keep up with large numbers of requests that can arrive simultaneously from network devices and SDN applications. 7 SPIRENT WHITE PAPER

13 SDN/OPENFLOW TESTING For example, the main components when testing an OpenFlow 1.0 network are: An OpenFlow 1.0 Controller One or more OpenFlow 1.0 Switches Secure Channels connecting each switch to the controller Fortunately there are test methodologies. Although constantly growing, the existing ones include: Secure Channel Connection The Secure Channel is the mechanism for establishing and maintaining communication between an OpenFlow 1.0 Controller and one or more OpenFlow 1.0-enabled switches. The proper operation of the Secure Channel by the switch is critical to the successful deployment of an OpenFlow network because it is the channel through which the OpenFlow Controller configures, manages, receives events and sends packets out through the switches. Flow Table Push Each OpenFlow 1.0 switch uses a flow table to perform packet matching and forwarding. For a switch to operate properly, it must be able to accept flows pushed down from the OpenFlow Controller. It must also properly match incoming packets, modify the packets correctly if specified, and forward them out of the proper switch port. Flow Timeout Test The Flow Entries pushed to an OpenFlow switch hove optional timeouts that can be used to remove flows after a period of time expires. A flow entry s hard timeout is used to remove a flow regardless of number or frequency of packet matches. When the hard timeout expires, the flow is removed by the switch. A flow entry s idle timeout is used to remove a flow after a period of time when there is no activity. Both timeouts are important for efficient operation to ensure the switch has only the latest flows. Barrier Request Message Response Upon receipt of a Barrier Request, an OpenFlow-enabled switch must delay processing subsequent OpenFlow protocol commands until all commands received prior to the receipt of the Barrier Request have been completed. Barrier Request/Response is the way an OpenFlow 1.0 Controller ensures that all inter-flow dependencies have been satisfied, and that all commands sent to the switch have been processed. Flow Table Scale Test In an OpenFlow network of even moderate size, the number of unique flow entries can be quite large. An OpenFlow-enabled switch, therefore, must be capable of properly handling a large number of unique flow table entries At the time of creating this white paper, SDN/OpenFlow 1.3 was released. The available methodologies will increase to cover the enhancements offered by the latest release. SPIRENT WHITE PAPER 8

14 CONCLUSIONS Existing networks are under pressure and facing a number of challenges. These include the continued growth of network traffic, the rise of mobile devices and the increased consumption of streaming video. Emerging network deployment scenarios, such as virtualized and cloud environments inside hyper-scale data centers, are also straining existing network technologies and architectures. Traditional network technologies are less than ideal when it comes to cost agility and design flexibility. These gaps are driving the need for a new approach to the network. While new and improved hardware is often the answer to existing hardware challenges, software and APIs will be the answer this time. SDN and OpenFlow will enable lower CapEx and OpEx, faster rollout and provisioning of on-demand services, and flexible designs that better support virtualized and cloud environments. At the same time, SDN and OpenFlow will introduce a number of new challenges, many of them within the domain of network testing. The increased use of software in network devices will require fundamental testing to be revisited. Rather than just using siliconbased switches and routers with clearly specified throughput and latency measures, network engineers will also use general-purpose servers as traffic for workers. This will require testing and certification using the PASS-methodology to ensure that performance, availability, security and scale are all validated. APIs, protocols and vendor implementations must all be thoroughly tested to ensure compliance with standards as well as interoperability between various implementations. In order to increase your odds of success, be sure to select and use test tools that support SDN and OpenFlow. Chosen tools should also support all elements of the PASS methodology to ensure healthy network operation from-end to-end. At Spirent Communications we work behind the scenes to help the world communicate and collaborate faster, better and more often. The world s leading communications companies rely on Spirent to help design, develop and deliver world-class network devices and services. Spirent s lab test solutions are used to evaluate performance of the latest technologies. As new communication services and applications are introduced in the market, Spirent provides tools for service management and field test to improve troubleshooting and quality. Spirent also enables enterprises, institutions and government agencies to secure and manage their networks. To learn more about SDN/OpenFlow testing and how Spirent can help with your testing requirements, please visit: OpenFlow. 9 SPIRENT WHITE PAPER

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