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Building a Unified Network Fabric to Support the Rural Cloud Initiative

Published on 07.10.2020 at 09:33 AM (MST) by Trilogy Team

Author: Mike Capuano, @Mike_Capuano

CMO Pluribus Networks

October 7, 2020

This past Monday Pluribus Networks was proud to be part of the Rural Cloud Initiative’s (RCI) announcement “Rural Cloud Initiative Completes First Phase of the Farm of the Future”. RCI is spearheaded by Trilogy Networks and consists of a broad set of partners including mobile and wireline communication providers across rural America as well as key software and hardware technology soluition providers that are considered “Edge Innovator” partners. In support of phase 1 Trilogy Networks integrated technologies from multiple Edge Innovator partners and service providers including Celona, Chat Mobility, ClearBlade, FMTC Data Center, Dell Technologies, IAMO Communications, Lanner Electronics, Midwest Data Center, SBA Edge Data Center and of course Pluribus Networks. RCI’s mission is to bring together these partners to deliver a high-performance distributed cloud offering manifested as Trilogy’s Nationwide Linx™ network and its ConEx™ edge platform, to support a broad set of innovative applications at the edge of rural America.   The first phase delivered an IoT service to the Hurst Greenery enabling an immediate 10% productivity improvement, proves out the Trilogy architecture and as it moves into production later this year, will power a variety of advanced precision agriculture applications, including sensors, monitoring devices, satellite mapping solutions, drones and even robots.Figure 1 Trilogy plans to bring together 100s of network operators as part of the Rural Cloud Initiative to deliver a unified edge cloud platform across rural America to support applications for precision agriculture, energy production and 5G.

The focus of RCI’s initial applications will be to provide solutions that radically advance precision agriculture to help farmers improve profitability and to fortify the integrity and efficiency of the US food supply chain. For example, one of the applications deployed for the Farm of the Future is already providing real-time environmental data for temperature and humidity over approximately two acres of greenhouses and another several acres of farmland, allowing Hurst Greenery to manage fans, heaters, and other environmental equipment, and to receive immediate alarm alerts when an issue arises.

Related to the delivery of these applications in low density rural areas is the need to pervasively build out private and public 5G services. As defined by standards bodies like 3GPP and ETSI, 5G requires distributed cloud as a key underpinning of the infrastructure to run virtualized network functions (VNFs) and containerized network functions (CNF). Thus, the deployment of the ConEx edge cloud platform can be used as shared infrastructure to not only host revenue generating applications but also to host 5G VNF/CNF workloads in support of 5G itself.

You can learn more about the Rural Cloud Initiative here.

How is Pluribus Networks Participating?

So more specifically, what is Pluribus’ involvement in RCI and with Trilogy Networks? We are providing a network operating system called the Netvisor ONE® OS that is running on disaggregated white box edge data center switches from Dell Technologies to provide a virtualized fabric across LinX and ConEx. LinX is nationwide backbone and ConEx is the regional area network and multi-tenant cloud infrastructure that consists of mobile or wireline operator’s regional network connecting various locations equipped with compute and storage infrastructure including regional switching offices/data centers (EdgeHubs), central offices (EdgeGates) and base station locations (EdgeRANs). The operator partners provide Layer 2, Layer 3 or fiber connectivity between sites which is called an underlay network.  Pluribus software creates an overlay network on top of this underlay called the Adaptive Cloud Fabric™ (ACF). ACF can deliver rich network services across the entire fabric, along with security segmentation and slicing, multi-tenancy and deep visibility. The benefit of having this sort of an overlay is that the Trilogy network operations team can now issue a single command with “Fabric Scope” to the network fabric and that configuration change is automatical programmed into all switches nearly instantly – this can be to deploy a new network service, add a new security policy or quickly shut down a DDoS attack.

Figure 2 ConEx™ virtualized network overlay fabric powered by the Pluribus Networks’ Adaptive Cloud Fabric solution

What is a Virtualized Network Overlay?

A virtualized network overlay is effectively creating an abstracted network running across VXLAN tunnels that are connected in a mesh between all data center switches. These tunnels can be leveraged by the switches to traverse a heterogenous underlay thus traveling across any wide area network (WAN). The benefits of this are that the underlay devices can be provisioned with very simple layer 2 or layer 3 configurations and remain nearly static, reducing complex configuration changes required on a device-by-device basis thus minimizing the risk of human error and improving stability and reliability. The leaf switches located in each data center are now connected together with these tunnels and leverage the packet processing hardware in the switch (e.g. Broadcom-based white box switch) to deliver high performance layer 2 services and segmentation and layer 3 services and segmentation with distributed routing, completely abstracted from the underlay.

Furthermore, the overlay network can be complemented with Software Defined Networking (SDN) automation (SDN control plane) where network services and security policies can be programmed from a central point and instantaneously distributed and enforced fabric-wide to every device that is a member of the fabric. SDN dramtically reduces the number of commands required to instantiate a service when compared to more traditional networking approaches, often reducing operational motions by two to three orders of magnitude or more.

In addition, workloads running in virtual machines (VMs) or containers can be easily moved from one data center to another data center, which is especially important in edge compute environments. The bottom line: a virtual network overlay reduces operational costs (opex), virtually eliminates human error, increases stability and reliability and, most importantly, dramatically improves agility enabling the service provider to move workloads and deploy new network services at the speed of cloud.Figure 3 A diagram depicting underlay and overlay networking.

Why is Trilogy deploying a virtualized overlay network fabric?

Trilogy could have built the network by taking traditional approach where all of the intelligence is held in the underlay network and network devices such as switches and routers require complex box-by-box configurations to deliver all network services. However, in a highly distributed environment that consists of 10’s or even 100’s of service provider partners all having different underlay network infrastructure connecting thousands of sites this task would have been near impossible. By using the Adaptive Cloud Fabric virtualized overlay solution Trilogy now has the ability to stretch a fabric across a variety of operator underlays and ends up with an abstracted, virtualized and homogenous networking construct that provides tremendous benefits to their business model.

  •   - Agility: in this day and edge of cloud computing, rapid service delivery is critical to customer satisfaction. The Pluribus ACF approach is to combine SDN automation with the virtualized overlay to enable instant fabric-wide changes required to deliver new services.
  •   - Workload Mobility: In edge compute environments the need to move workloads to support demand at a particular edge location and have the network “follow” the workload is critical.
  •   - Remote Management: Many locations may be lights out facilities that do not have collocated technical staff. Instead of staff driving from location to location, Trilogy can go to any switch in the network fabric to issue a fabric wide command or to extract granular telemetry data for performance monitoring and troubleshooting.
  •   - Reliability and stability: With hundreds of mini-data center locations containing edge compute there must be an approach to ensuring consistent configurations are deployed consistently to minimize human error, a major reason for network downtime. If one of the switches in the fabric is not able to accept a new config, that config is rolled back from all switches until the issue is resolved. Also, the underlay can be a simple configuration since services are delivered via the overlay.
  •   - Programmability: The abstraction in conjunction with a CLI-equivalent RESTful API into ACF gives Trilogy a simple way for their Edge View software to program the network quickly and consistently across all locations.
  •   - Multi-tenancy: Since Trilogy is serving multiple application providers and the operators themselves for 5G VNFs/CNFs the ability of ACF to provide complete isolation between tenants is highly valuable.
  •   - Visibility: Netvisor ONE and ACF provide granular per-flow network traffic telemetry along with full device statistics. Every device connected to, port participating in and flow traversing the fabric is captured and exported for rich analysis and presentation via visual dashboards by the Pluribus UNUM Insight Analytics solution.
  •   - Security: Consistent fabric wide security policies can be configured centrally but are deployed and enforced consistently across all devices, ensuring there are no holes for attackers to penetrate. Network segmentation is also used to segment the network to prevent attackers from moving laterally if they do penetrate the perimeter.
  •   - Opex Savings – obviously almost all of the fabric-wide automation and security capabilities above net out to reduced operational costs and increased customer satisfaction.
  •   - Capex savings: By deploying Netvisor ONE on commoditized, disaggregated, 1RU fixed form factor white box switches, Trilogy is avoiding the high cost of vertically integrated solutions that use custom silicon and chassis based products that can result in extremely high costs.

Pluribus Networks – Looking Ahead

Pluribus is thrilled to be part of the RCI as an Edge Innovator and is committed to continuous improvement to deliver more and more value to Trilogy as the platform provider. Today we announced some powerful new capabilities including architectural innovations that will allow us to scale a single Adaptive Cloud Fabric to over 1000 switches and EVPN Open Fabric Extension which enables us to interoperate with third party EVPN fabrics and federate our own fabrics together for nearly unlimited scale. We look forward to partnering with Trilogy and RCI to bring edge cloud to rural America to improve lives everywhere.

If you would like to learn more about Pluribus Networks, you can visit us at www.pluribusnetworks.com/ or contact us here.   

You can learn more about the Rural Cloud Initiative by visiting www.ruralcloud.com

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