Software-defined Networking is about moving away from past generations of highly specialised physical network devices – where one “box” does everything – towards networking devices that can be reprogrammed. In this field, the EU-funded BEBA project successfully identified new architectures and methods that provide improved internet security, faster functionality and accurate in-network monitoring, without impairing performance. Flexible internet The internet can be thought of as having two very different faces. One is the interface that every day users directly interact with – search engines, social networks, messaging services and the like – while the other is the underlying technological infrastructure. This infrastructure not only comprises physical devices such as network switches, routers, and interface cards but is also enforced by operational protocols, standards and procedures. ‘Protocols are like the “rules” of the internet communication infrastructure, while things like network switches and software defined networks are like the internet’s “plumbing”,’ explains Professor Guiseppe Bianchi from the University of Rome Tor Vergata in Italy and project coordinator of the BEBA project. ‘While their existence is very rarely perceived by everyday users, they are absolutely vital for the internet to function.’ One challenge is that these “rules” are so complex and unwieldy that it can very hard for internet technology to evolve (a phenomenon which has been referred to as “internet ossification”). The BEBA project sought to address this by pioneering Software-defined Networking, in an attempt to make network operations more flexible and able to adapt to innovative and emerging services and needs. New architectures and methods were identified, developed and then trialled to ensure that operations could be performed at optimal speeds. ‘We were able to show faster detection and reaction to denial of service attacks at a large-scale pilot deployment in the Czech Republic,’ says Bianchi. ‘We also demonstrated that Software-defined Networking permits network operators to decide on and configure their own statistics to control and track, as opposed to relying on how commercial network devices have been configured.’ The project’s flexible approach was also successfully integrated into a well-known open-source software switch. Online opportunities While early days, the technology pioneered by the BEBA project has opened up new possibilities for modern computing. One potential avenue of further research might be the development of BEBA-capable “smart” network interface cards. These could be deployed to “offload” network functions such as connection tracking, smart load balancing and security monitoring onto the cloud, freeing up computing resources. Another compelling result has been the inclusion of part of the project’s ideas in the future version of the Open Networking Foundation’s OpenFlow standard. A simplified version of BEBA’s proposed approach, which was called “OpenState”, was shown to be already compatible with existing OpenFlow hardware. Even though this project has now finished, Bianchi and his team are still closely following the standardisation process. ‘It is also worth noting that the BEBA project promoted programming abstractions that are designed to be independent of specific platforms that “run” network functions,’ says Bianchi. ‘We think that remaining abstracted from a specific platform’s implementation details is a clear opportunity for open innovation.’ By “decoupling” the implementation of network functions from the vendor that implements the specific platform, third party developers and engineers will be able to develop tailored, specific functions without the need to know the internal workings of any platform.
BEBA, Software-defined Networking, programming, OpenFlow, internet