Alberta’s Rapid Access Cloud is supporting a global open-source networking solution

How a small Software Defined Networking solution out of New Zealand became a tool used by universities and research labs around the world, with a little help from the Rapid Access Cloud.

In 2013, Cybera blogged about Software Defined Networking (SDN) being “the latest 'big thing' in the field of networking”. Simply put, SDN allows network operators to centrally control their network architecture using software applications. This makes it much easier to oversee the evolution of their networks to meet the exploding data demands of users.

Unfortunately, seven years after Cybera’s first foray into this exciting new technology, there remains little pickup of SDN by other education and research institutions. One reason for this is the cost: available SDN solutions for enterprise are quite pricey, and the open-source solutions that do exist are not well suited to the complex nature of university networks.

Enter Faucet (and the Rapid Access Cloud)

A solution to the university SDN problem began with a group of software developers and network administrators from the WAND Network Research Group at The University of Waikato in New Zealand. Not finding a suitable network controller option that supported Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs) for the OpenFlow switches they had purchased, they decided to create their own open-source SDN controller. This controller, created in partnership with the Research & Education Advanced Network NZ (REANNZ), became Faucet. It is now used by a number of research institutions around the world, including the US Energy Sciences Network (ESNet), Australian National University’s (ANU) high-performance computing infrastructure, and Sandia National Laboratories’ cloud infrastructure in Albuquerque, USA.

Faucet is one of many unique projects that rely on Cybera’s open-source Rapid Access Cloud. Since 2018, the Faucet team has used the Rapid Access Cloud to perform daily conformance tests of their tool to make sure that code added to the project functions correctly and reliably.

“If we weren’t using the Rapid Access Cloud, we’d have to rely on infrastructure I was maintaining myself at The University of Waikato to perform our tests, which would tie this project to my workplace and make it cumbersome for those on the project who work for different companies,” says Brad Cowie, a research programmer at The University of Waikato and one of the Faucet leads, pictured in the middle of the top row, below. “The Rapid Access Cloud has allowed us to run this project independently, which better suits the open-source, community-driven approach of the project.”

How it works

A typical organization’s network infrastructure uses switches and routers to control users’ traffic. Traditionally, any changes that need to be made to this infrastructure requires manually adjusting the configuration for each switch or router individually, a time-consuming process. Software Defined Networking allows the network operator to centralize these changes, making for easier adjustments across the entire infrastructure.

“For most organizations with their own networks, you can generalize those needs and changes. But universities and research campuses have specialized needs, which makes it difficult to use conventional open-source SDN solutions,” says Cowie.

“Faucet was built from the ground up to support the requirements of campus networks and be easily operable by network engineers, which is what makes it unique. Most other SDN controllers are built to focus on data centre networks, which have their own unique requirements. There’s really nothing else that exists that can do this.”

The tool is kept operating thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers who are overseen by a foundation made up of board members from across the world.

“Being a small open-source project money is always tight, so we really rely on the charity of others to help run it,” says Cowie.

Despite the “MacGyver”iness of its origins, Faucet has proven to be a dependable SDN solution. This was demonstrated at the 2018 Supercomputing Conference in Dallas, USA, where it was installed on what was considered the fastest and most powerful temporary network in the world. The Faucet team built an SDN network with 9 Tbps of capacity to serve an internet connection to a portion of the trade booths at the conference via the 4.02 Tbps of bandwidth coming into the venue.

Faucet SC18 group photo in front of SCinet network. Image credit: The SC Conference Series

Looking for new connections

The Faucet team is now looking for more organizations — including university offices, research facilities, and laboratories — to make use of its SDN solution, particularly “groups looking for control and flexibility on their networks”.

For more information, visit the Faucet website.