Virtual switches are an important element in solutions for Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) and the performance of virtual switches will have a significant impact on the success of these solutions. Open vSwitch (OVS) is an open source virtual switch implementation supported by many industry leaders developing solutions for SDN and NFV. The throughput achieved using OVS on standard server hardware is therefore of critical interest to service providers and carriers planning to use SDN and NFV, and anyone developing virtualized solutions for the data center and communications infrastructure.


In this blog I am going to review the demonstration shown by 6WIND at the recent Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara, California and NFV and SDN Summit  in Paris showing OVS acceleration reaching 195 Gbps. The demonstration used server hardware from Hewlett-Packard, an Associate member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance, Open vSwitch acceleration software from 6WIND, an Affiliate member of the Alliance and Linux operating system from Red Hat, a General member of the Alliance. The 250-plus members of the Alliance collaborate closely with Intel to create hardware, software, tools, and services to help speed embedded systems to market.


Open vSwitch

Open vSwitch is a multilayer virtual switch licensed under the open source Apache 2.0 license and supports standard management interfaces and protocols. OVS makes it easier to manage virtual machine (VM) network configurations in virtualized environments, such as SDN and NFV, and can be used as both the soft switch running within a hypervisor and as a control stack for switching silicon. OVS can run on any Linux-based virtualization platform and has been ported to a number of other operating systems.


SDN is a flexible network for data centers and other applications. SDN is implemented on a mix of standard servers and low latency physical and virtual switches. Network traffic flowing between the physical and virtual systems in the network is managed by controllers. The controllers form a virtual control plane that can be centrally managed through an orchestrator. Communication between the controllers and the physical and virtual systems in the network uses the OpenFlow protocol ensuring interoperability between systems supplied by different vendors.


NFV is a virtualized infrastructure where dedicated, physical systems are replaced by solutions implemented as virtualized applications running on standard server hardware in a data center environment. NFV is being standardized through ETSI and is gaining significant interest from mobile network operators.


Hardware Platform

OVS is designed to run on a standard server platform. The 6WIND demonstration uses an HP ProLiant DL380p GEN8 server (see Figure 1) with dual Intel® Xeon® processors E5-2670 v2 each with 10-cores. The HP ProLiant DL380p GEN8 server supports up to 768GB DDR3 memory and up to 48TB internal storage. Networking connections to the server can be 4x1GbE, 10GbE or 40GbE.


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Figure 1. HP ProLiant DL380p GEN8 server.


Software Acceleration

Red Hat Enterprise Linux supports highly scalable multicore systems and is designed to reduce data bottlenecks. The operating system can be deployed across a range of platforms including standard server hardware, virtual machines and cloud infrastructure.


The 6WIND 6WINDGate is high performance data plane processing software that can deliver up to 10 X improvement in data plane processing performance on multicore platforms. The software is optimized for industry-leading multicore processor architectures such as the Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 v2 and has full support for industry standard hypervisors with no performance penalty.


6WINDGate accelerates the performance of OVS by using dedicated processor cores running outside the LINUX kernel to implement packet processing functions in a fast path. A typical implementation is shown in Figure 2. Multiple applications running on virtual machines are connected through the OVS. The OVS control plane and 6WINDGate based data plane are running on standard servers with network interface cards (NICs).


6WINDGate works with standard OVS, hypervisor and open flow controller. The 6WINDGate software monitors the OVS data plane calls and intercepts data plane packets, processing them transparently outside the LINUX kernel. The 6WINDGate software leverages the Intel® DPDK library and integrates drivers for the NICs and security acceleration to achieve maximum performance. The Intel DPDK is a set of source code programming libraries that accelerate basic data plane functions. The 6WINDGate-based data plane includes OVS acceleration, basic switching features and support for Layer 2-4 protocols such as VXLAN, Filtering/NAT and IPsec.

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Figure 2. 6WINDGate Accelerated Open vSwitch.


Accelerated Open vSwitch Demonstration


The 6WIND OVS demonstration is shown in Figure 3. The OVS control plane and data plane, accelerated by 6WINDGate, is running on the HP ProLiant DL380p GEN8 server with Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The hardware platform is connected to a traffic generator through 40Gbps NICs.


Using this platform data throughput up to 195Gbps is achieved. This is significantly higher than a non-accelerated implementation and higher than many hardware switching solutions.

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Figure 3. 6WIND Accelerated Virtual Switch Demo.


This demonstration shows the viability of OVS for high bandwidth applications and benefits of using an accelerated OVS solution.  This level of performance and higher will be required as service providers and carriers deploy solutions based on SDN and NFV.


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Hewlett-Packard is an Associate member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. 6WIND is an Affiliate member and Red Hat is a General member of the Alliance.


Simon Stanley

Roving Reporter (Intel® Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance

Principal Consultant, Earlswood Marketing

Follow me on Twitter: @simon_stanley