Aug 04 2015

Colleges Test the Waters with SDN

IT managers realize the technology’s potential to reduce costs and run networks more efficiently.

Milwaukee’s Mount Mary University has just 1,500 students, which makes it the perfect testbed environment.

When IT Director Marc Belanger came on board about a year ago, the university needed a major network upgrade. And while it was important for the university to work on the network core and edge and deploy 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Belanger says one of the main reasons for having Extreme Networks supply all its new network equipment was the product’s integration with Microsoft Lync, now branded as Skype for Business.

By offering a software-defined network (SDN) controller that’s tied into Skype for Business, Extreme Networks was already heading down the path that Belanger wanted to follow. This summer, Mount Mary University will move to Skype for Business for Enterprise Voice.

The IT team plans to install softphones on desktops and will evaluate how the SDN controller can streamline the phone provisioning and management process, including automating quality of service policies and providing analytics on network and application performance. “We want to find ways we can program network applications in software as opposed to adding another device,” Belanger explains.

The relationship with Extreme is a perfect match, says Belanger. The university can test its new network gear, and Extreme Networks gets a controlled environment to learn from, as does the broader industry once Mount Mary University and Extreme share their findings.

Andrew Lerner, a research director for Gartner, says software-defined networks (SDNs) can help IT departments run more agile networks that are easier and less expensive to manage, but the technology’s real potential lies in its ability to set up the network as a center of innovation.

“There’s great potential for the networking market to innovate in a similar manner to smartphones, where IT departments set up a central SDN controller and run apps for functions such as authentication and security,” Lerner explains. “Whether that happens in the next three to five years is not clear right now, but the potential is there.”

Another Path to SDN

The North Carolina Research and Education Network leads a joint initiative to build an SDN that connects North Carolina State, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to the regional NCREN and the national Internet 2 backbone.

William Brockelsby, lead network architect for North Carolina State University, says when the connections are live, the group will create Science DMZs — science-optimized sections of a network that are partially protected from the larger Internet, with controlled access to an organization — which will let researchers deploy dynamic virtual circuits to create optimal paths for the exchange of large data sets. “These connections will use an SDN network to support research data sharing between the various campuses,” he says.

The university plans to use an open-source controller. “SDN is in a state of flux, so it made more sense to test SDN on our campus networks with hybrid switches,” Brockelsby says. He plans to write a number of network applications, including authentication, traffic slicing and analysis, security and policy management.

“Using OpenFlow-enabled infrastructure, we hope to build a sandbox that can block or divert malware,” Brockelsby says. “By using all open-source code, we can run all our tests with low-cost switches and servers running Linux.”


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