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Delve into the unknown world of OpenFlow, a new network trend that changes conventional wisdom!

I'm sure you've all used email, searched for information on the Internet, or used internal company systems such as those for reserving meeting rooms. All these things are made possible by "networks" that connect the necessary computers together. But I get the feeling that many people out there may be unfamiliar with what networks actually are. I have to admit, my impression was that they simply worked when you plugged in a network cable.

But the more I learn about them, the more I realize just how difficult the role of a corporate network administrator must be! To manage a network requires expertise, and administrators apparently have to learn design and operation skills while also putting an enormous amount of effort into running and managing a network. They actually shoulder a lot of responsibility, such as having to carry out wiring work and configuration changes on their day off or late at night due to network alterations or faults.

Cutting-edge technologies have been developed to resolve issues such as these, and some companies have radically revised their approach to networks as a result, so it seems this may be the dawning of a new era. OpenFlow is perhaps the most frequently cited example of these new technologies, and NEC was apparently the first in the world to release products using OpenFlow to the market, contributing to its spread by recommending that customers implement it.

In light of this, I went to interview Mr. Kinashi of NEC to learn more about network systems and the issues involved, as well as the new trends in OpenFlow and NEC's initiatives!

Interviewee: Haruhiko Kinashi
Mr. Kinashi is in charge of NEC's original "ProgrammableFlow" technology that utilizes OpenFlow. He is engaged in marketing and promotional activities such as advertising, public relations, event planning, and the dispatch of information.

  • MitaIt's nice to meet you, Mr. Kinashi. Before asking about OpenFlow, can you first give us a brief explanation of what networks are?
  • KinashiPut simply, networks are systems and mechanisms that connect Point A to Point B. You've no doubt used email at work, performed Internet searches, or reserved a meeting room via an internal system at some stage. These tasks can be carried out thanks to networks that lie hidden in the background, connecting the computers that accept and process the information you input.
  • MitaYou mean they're connected by a cable or something?
  • KinashiOf course they are connected via cables, but that's not all. Systems and devices are required to select and connect the applicable machines from among a large number of computers. In addition to cables, network devices such as routers, switches, and wireless equipment are used, and all of these together form a network.
  • MitaSo there's more to it than just connecting the cables, huh? Networks sound complicated.
  • KinashiThey are. Building a network involves coming up with a design that takes into consideration factors such as the location, purpose, and required performance, including which points will be connected, what devices are required at each end, and how many computers need to be placed beyond those devices. Of course, it is also necessary to ensure security, so you need to take into account things like which devices should not be connected, and how to process data from dubious sources.
  • MitaThat makes me think it would take a long time to build a network at a large company.
  • KinashiThat's an excellent point. As you say, the larger the company, the greater the network scale will be. As a network gets bigger, the number of devices and amount of wiring also increase, and the requirements you need to keep in mind grow in complexity.
  • MitaI never knew building a network involved so much work.
  • KinashiThe building isn't the only hard task, as what comes after that takes a lot of effort, too. There are often situations where you need to add devices due to an increase in staff, or improve network performance because a larger volume of data is passing over it. Staff reassignment and organizational changes are also factors, and technology progresses at such a fast rate. At times like these, the network configuration must be changed.
  • MitaI see. So despite all the effort you put into building the network, you have to update it?
  • KinashiThat's right. Would it be okay if I explained a little more about network mechanisms?
  • MitaPlease do.
  • KinashiUntil now, each network device itself determined which route and rules to use when sending data over a network. In technical terms, this is called an autonomous distributed system. Basically, each device has a "brain" of its own. However, when changing the network configuration, you sometimes need to adjust the settings required for network devices in addition to physical tasks such as cable wiring.
  • MitaWhy would you need to configure settings if each device has a brain to make decisions on its own?
  • KinashiEach "brain" on a network with an autonomous distributed system communicates with other devices to work out which device to send data to next, so it can be delivered to the destination. However, when you want to limit the scope of communications based on which person in which department the computer belongs to, these conditions have to be configured manually on the network device. After all, companies have information they only want certain people and departments to have access to, such as personnel details and accounting data.
  • MitaI see. So they set whether certain people can talk to each other, huh? Does changing the settings really involve that much work?
  • KinashiNetworks are made up of many connected devices. So even simply adding a single server can result in configuration changes being necessary on a lot of equipment. Can you imagine how hard it is when there's a large-scale personnel reshuffling, or a whole floor moving?
  • MitaWith all the changes required, that would a be really tough job!
  • KinashiI think you get the idea. So, now that we've gone over the basics of networks, let's talk a bit about their issues.
  • MitaYou mean there are more issues, aside from those when building them or changing the configuration?
  • KinashiYes. One of the major issues with networks is actually the fact that virtualization hasn't progressed very much.
  • MitaVirtualization?
  • KinashiIn the world of computers, a system called "server virtualization" that enables you to run multiple virtual machines on a single server is becoming more and more prevalent. Let me briefly explain the benefits that virtualization can provide.
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