Helping change the face of computer networking

A team of computer scientists at Victoria University is taking part in ground-breaking research to develop software-defined networking.

A new approach to computer networking which experts say has the potential to revolutionise the technology industry. Software-defined networking (SDN) is an emerging technology that has been designed as a response to the need to more effectively manage the increasingly large amounts of data traffic travelling across computer networks and through the internet.

SDN uses software, rather than traditional hardware, to manage computer networks. It has the benefits of being able to simplify interactions between networks, is more easily changed and updated and also allows people to control and schedule the movement of certain types of data (for example, prioritising media files or streaming online television).

Research into the cutting-edge technology is springing up around the world, including in New Zealand, where staff and students at Victoria University have been involved in the country’s first successful live trial of an SDN system.

Known as the Cardigan Project, a team of computer networkers from universities and technology organisations and industry professionals spent several months working together late last year. They successfully connected the office network at the Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand (REANNZ) and the CityLink Wellington Internet Exchange, using SDN technology they developed and a free, publicly available product that enables SDN to work, called OpenFlow. Andy Linton, a Senior Lecturer in Victoria’s School of Computer Science and Engineering, has been involved in the project and says it is the most exciting development in networking technology in the last 20 years.

“Software-defined networking will mark a real shift in the way data are transferred over the internet and it is incredibly exciting to be able to contribute to this change through the involvement of our staff, researchers and, importantly, our students.

“The Cardigan Project is one of the first real-life examples of SDN to be announced publicly, and hopefully this is just the start of increased attention and use of SDN throughout the wider networking community. We’ll be continuing to develop the technology further here in New Zealand.”

Mr Linton says the work continues a long tradition of the School being at the forefront of nternet development since 1992, when Victoria University established New Zealand’s first-ever Internet Service Provider.

SDN was originally created by computer scientists at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. It has now been snapped up by large technology firms—including Google, which recently announced it is using SDN systems in its own large internal network, using OpenFlow.

Several students worked fulltime on SDN over the summer through Victoria University’s Summer Research Scholarships programme, including research assistant Joe Stringer.

Joe, who recently completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Waikato, came to Victoria specifically to develop code and help solve problems on the Cardigan Project, and is now writing research papers about his experience. He says there are a lot of job prospects in SDN at the moment because it is such a new field.

“OpenFlow was only introduced to the world in 2008 and, in just the last year, every major networking company across the globe has invested in SDN. It is really an exciting time to be involved in network engineering.

“The paper I’m co-writing at the moment about the Cardigan Project will hopefully show the world a little bit of what Kiwis can do for the future of the internet.”

The Cardigan Project was led by Dean Pemberton, and has taken place in collaboration between CityLink, REANNZ, CPqD, Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Waikato.