Welcome!

SDN Journal Authors: Elizabeth White, Johnnie Konstantas, Cloud Best Practices Network, Sarah Patrick, Ramesh Ganapathy

Related Topics: SDN Journal, Java IoT, Microsoft Cloud, Containers Expo Blog, @CloudExpo, @BigDataExpo

SDN Journal: Blog Feed Post

Scaling Stateful Network Devices

One of the premises of SDN and cloud scalability is that it's easy to simply replicate services

One of the premises of SDN and cloud scalability is that it's easy to simply replicate services - whether they be application or network focused - and distribute traffic across them to scale infinitely.

In theory, this is absolutely the case. In theory, one can continue to add capacity to any layer of the data center and simply distribute requests across the layer to scale out as necessary.

Where reality puts a big old roadblock in the way is when services are stateful. This is the case with many applications - much to the chagrin of cloud and REST purists, by the way - and it is also true with a significant number of network devices. Unfortunately, it is often these devices that proponents of network virtualization target without offering a clear path to addressing the challenges inherent in scaling stateful network devices.

SDN's claims to supporting load balancing, at least at layer 4, are almost certainly based on traditional, dumb layer 4 load balancing. We use the term "dumb" to simply mean that it doesn't care about the payload or the application or anything else other than its destination port and service and does not participate in the flow. In most layer 4 load balancing scenarios for which this is the case, the only time the load balancer examines the traffic is when processing a new connection. The load balancer may buffer enough packets to determine some basic networking details - source and destination IP and TCP ports - and then it establishes a connection between the client and the server. From this point on, generally speaking, the load balancer assumes the role of a simple forwarder. Subsequent packets with the same pattern are simply forwarded on to the destination.

If you think about it, this is so close to the behavior described by an SDN-enabled network as to be virtually the same. In an SDN-enabled network, a new flow (session if you will, in the load balancing vernacular) would be directed to the SDN controller for processing. The SDN controller would determine its destination and inform the appropriate network components of that decision. Subsequent packets with the same pattern would be forwarded on to the destination according to the information in the FIB (Forwarding Information Base). As the load balancing service was scaled out, inevitably packets would be distributed to components lacking an entry in the FIB. Said components would query the controller, which would simply return the appropriate entry to the device.

In such a way, simple layer 4 load balancing can be achieved via SDN*.

However, the behavior of the layer 4 load balancing service described is stateless. It does not actively manage the flow. Aside from the initial inspection and routing decision, the load balancing service is actually just a bump in the wire, forwarding packets much in the same manner as any other switch in the network.

But what happens when the load balancing service is actively participating in the flow, i.e. it is stateful.

Scaling Stateful Devices

Stateful devices are those that actively manage a flow. That is, they may inspect, manipulate, or otherwise interact with flows in real-time. These devices are often used for security - both ingress and egress - as well as acceleration and optimization of application exchanges. They are also use for content transformation purposes, such as XML or SOA gateways, API management, and other application-focused scenarios. The most common use of stateful devices is persistent load balancing, aka sticky sessions, aka server affinity. Persistent load balancing requires the load balancing service (or device) maintain a mapping of user to application instance (or server, in traditional, non-virtualized environments). This mapping is unique to the device, and without it a wide variety of applications break when scaled - VDI being the most recent example of an application relying on persistence of sessions .

In all these cases, however, one thing is true: the device providing the service is an active participant. The device maintains service-specific information regarding a variety of variables including the user, the device, the traffic, the application, the data. The entire context of the session is often maintained by one or more devices along the traffic chain.

What that means is that, like stateful, shared-nothing applications, it matters to which device a specific request is directed. While certainly the same model used at layer 4 and below in which a central controller (or really bank of controllers) maintains this information and doles it on on-demand, the result is that depending on the distribution algorithm used, every stateful device would end up with the same flows installed. In the interim, the network is frantically applying optimization and acceleration policies to traffic that may be offset by the latency introduced by the need to query the controller for session state information, resulting in a net loss of performance experienced by the end-user.

And we're not even considering the impact of secured traffic on such a model, where any device needing to make decisions on such traffic must have access to the certificates and keys used to encrypt the traffic in order to decrypt, examine, and usually re-encrypt the traffic. Stateful network devices - application delivery controllers, intrusion prevention and detection systems, secure gateways, etc... - are often required to manage secured content, which means distributing and managing certificates and keys across what may be an ever-expanding set of network devices.

The reality is that stateful network devices are a necessary and integral component of not just networks but applications today. While modern network architectures like SDN bring much needed improvements to provisioning and management of large scale networks, their scaling models are based on the premise of stateless, relatively simple devices not actively participating in flows. For those devices that rely upon deep participation in the flow, this model introduces a variety of challenges that may not find a solution that fits well with SDN without compromising on performance outside new protocols capable of carrying that state persistently throughout the lifetime of a session.

* This does not address the issue of resources required to maintain said forwarding tables in a given device, which given current capacity of commoditized switches supported for such a role seems unlikely to be realistically achieved.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

@CloudExpo Stories
The cloud promises new levels of agility and cost-savings for Big Data, data warehousing and analytics. But it’s challenging to understand all the options – from IaaS and PaaS to newer services like HaaS (Hadoop as a Service) and BDaaS (Big Data as a Service). In her session at @BigDataExpo at @ThingsExpo, Hannah Smalltree, a director at Cazena, will provide an educational overview of emerging “as-a-service” options for Big Data in the cloud. This is critical background for IT and data profes...
Father business cycles and digital consumers are forcing enterprises to respond faster to customer needs and competitive demands. Successful integration of DevOps and Agile development will be key for business success in today’s digital economy. In his session at DevOps Summit, Pradeep Prabhu, Co-Founder & CEO of Cloudmunch, covered the critical practices that enterprises should consider to seamlessly integrate Agile and DevOps processes, barriers to implementing this in the enterprise, and pr...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Men & Mice, the leading global provider of DNS, DHCP and IP address management overlay solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. The Men & Mice Suite overlay solution is already known for its powerful application in heterogeneous operating environments, enabling enterprises to scale without fuss. Building on a solid range of diverse platform support,...
Sensors and effectors of IoT are solving problems in new ways, but small businesses have been slow to join the quantified world. They’ll need information from IoT using applications as varied as the businesses themselves. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Roger Meike, Distinguished Engineer, Director of Technology Innovation at Intuit, showed how IoT manufacturers can use open standards, public APIs and custom apps to enable the Quantified Small Business. He used a Raspberry Pi to connect sensors...
Data-as-a-Service is the complete package for the transformation of raw data into meaningful data assets and the delivery of those data assets. In her session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lakshmi Randall, an industry expert, analyst and strategist, will address: What is DaaS (Data-as-a-Service)? Challenges addressed by DaaS Vendors that are enabling DaaS Architecture options for DaaS
SYS-CON Events announced today that Avere Systems, a leading provider of enterprise storage for the hybrid cloud, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Avere delivers a more modern architectural approach to storage that doesn’t require the overprovisioning of storage capacity to achieve performance, overspending on expensive storage media for inactive data or the overbuilding of data centers ...
With the proliferation of both SQL and NoSQL databases, organizations can now target specific fit-for-purpose database tools for their different application needs regarding scalability, ease of use, ACID support, etc. Platform as a Service offerings make this even easier now, enabling developers to roll out their own database infrastructure in minutes with minimal management overhead. However, this same amount of flexibility also comes with the challenges of picking the right tool, on the right ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Catchpoint Systems, Inc., a provider of innovative web and infrastructure monitoring solutions, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's DevOps Summit at 18th Cloud Expo New York, which will take place June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Catchpoint is a leading Digital Performance Analytics company that provides unparalleled insight into customer-critical services to help consistently deliver an amazing customer experience. Designed...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interoute, owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2015 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Interoute is the owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform which encompasses 12 data centers, 14 virtual data centers and 31 colocation centers, with connections to 195 ad...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Alert Logic, Inc., the leading provider of Security-as-a-Service solutions for the cloud, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Alert Logic, Inc., provides Security-as-a-Service for on-premises, cloud, and hybrid infrastructures, delivering deep security insight and continuous protection for customers at a lower cost than traditional security solutions. Ful...
Recognizing the need to identify and validate information security professionals’ competency in securing cloud services, the two leading membership organizations focused on cloud and information security, the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) and (ISC)^2, joined together to develop an international cloud security credential that reflects the most current and comprehensive best practices for securing and optimizing cloud computing environments.
Companies can harness IoT and predictive analytics to sustain business continuity; predict and manage site performance during emergencies; minimize expensive reactive maintenance; and forecast equipment and maintenance budgets and expenditures. Providing cost-effective, uninterrupted service is challenging, particularly for organizations with geographically dispersed operations.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Commvault, a global leader in enterprise data protection and information management, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Commvault is a leading provider of data protection and information management...
SYS-CON Events announced today that VAI, a leading ERP software provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. VAI (Vormittag Associates, Inc.) is a leading independent mid-market ERP software developer renowned for its flexible solutions and ability to automate critical business functions for the distribution, manufacturing, specialty retail and service sectors. An IBM Premier Business Part...
With an estimated 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020, several industries will begin to expand their capabilities for retaining end point data at the edge to better utilize the range of data types and sheer volume of M2M data generated by the Internet of Things. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Don DeLoach, CEO and President of Infobright, will discuss the infrastructures businesses will need to implement to handle this explosion of data by providing specific use cases for filte...
In most cases, it is convenient to have some human interaction with a web (micro-)service, no matter how small it is. A traditional approach would be to create an HTTP interface, where user requests will be dispatched and HTML/CSS pages must be served. This approach is indeed very traditional for a web site, but not really convenient for a web service, which is not intended to be good looking, 24x7 up and running and UX-optimized. Instead, talking to a web service in a chat-bot mode would be muc...
It's easy to assume that your app will run on a fast and reliable network. The reality for your app's users, though, is often a slow, unreliable network with spotty coverage. What happens when the network doesn't work, or when the device is in airplane mode? You get unhappy, frustrated users. An offline-first app is an app that works, without error, when there is no network connection.
Cognitive Computing is becoming the foundation for a new generation of solutions that have the potential to transform business. Unlike traditional approaches to building solutions, a cognitive computing approach allows the data to help determine the way applications are designed. This contrasts with conventional software development that begins with defining logic based on the current way a business operates. In her session at 18th Cloud Expo, Judith S. Hurwitz, President and CEO of Hurwitz & ...
More and more companies are looking to microservices as an architectural pattern for breaking apart applications into more manageable pieces so that agile teams can deliver new features quicker and more effectively. What this pattern has done more than anything to date is spark organizational transformations, setting the foundation for future application development. In practice, however, there are a number of considerations to make that go beyond simply “build, ship, and run,” which changes ho...
SYS-CON Events announced today that AppNeta, the leader in performance insight for business-critical web applications, will exhibit and present at SYS-CON's @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. AppNeta is the only application performance monitoring (APM) company to provide solutions for all applications – applications you develop internally, business-critical SaaS applications you use and the networks that deli...