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DARPA-driven project based on OpenStack is revealed to the IT community

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July 30, 2014

A DARPA-driven project based on OpenStack has been revealed to the IT community, with the claim that it will eventually lead to sub-second provisioning for connectivity between clouds. The world is already familiar with the concept of elastic clouds, with Amazon, Google and Microsoft offering some variant on such themes for enterprise customers.

However, cloud-to-cloud elasticity is a completely different matter altogether, since carriers and their optical networks have to be pulled into the stack. And that's where the similarity ends.

To be sure, over the past three years or so, IBM, AT&T and Applied Communications Sciences already worked together on the project, which IBM describes as a proof of concept demonstrating “a cloud system that monitors and automatically scales the network up or down as various applications need them.”

The basic signalling is quite simple, said Doug Freimuth from IBM Research. “It simply works by the cloud data centre sending a signal to a network controller that describes the bandwidth needs, and which cloud data centre need to connect”.

For that, Freimuth says, the system needs an orchestrator between data centres, akin to the in-data-centre orchestration already pursued by cloud vendors and the open source world alike.

According to R&D Magazine, AT&T developed the bandwidth-on-demand networking architecture, while ACS provided its optical-layer routing and signalling technology.

AT&T Labs' Robert Doverspike said the proof-of-concept combined SDN implementations with “advanced, cost-efficient network routing in a realistic carrier network environment”.

“This prototype was implemented on OpenStack, an open-source cloud-computing platform for public and private clouds, elastically provisioning WAN connectivity and placing virtual machines between two clouds for the purpose of load balancing virtual network functions,” R&D Mag said.

The prototype was developed under DARPA's seven-year-old Coronet program, of which we should get more news soon.

In other IT news

Cisco has written an interesting white paper in which it suggests that network virtualization can produce unwanted consequences and that there are no immediate guarantees that the whole process will work going forward.

The scathing report goes on to say that-- “Virtualization isn't a new concept but it's now being applied to network functions such as those in switches, routers and the myriad other network appliances deployed,” the white paper suggests, before going on to offer the observations that “The early days of server virtualization had a dramatic impact on lowering server capital expenditures”.

That Cisco would come out with such revelations isn't surprising, considering that network virtualization has been cutting into the company's revenues for the past two years.

However, Cisco says that companies that are making meagre savings didn't last because “Operational costs skyrocketed as more labor-intensive and complex processes were required in the end.”

Which is difficult to dispute-- all manner of vendors and products have emerged to manage large collections of virtual servers. And there are other direct and indirect costs as well.

Network virtualization, the paper continues, should be approached with that experience in mind.

“Furthermore, reducing complexity through automation and management will speed up operations to a certain degree, contribute to service agility, and lower operational costs,” the paper adds.

Some of the arguments that follow are not sophisticated. Cisco says you probably wouldn't bother with network virtualization for seldom-access resources, but landline and wireless carriers will do well to put it to work for this month's new released movie downloads.

The paper also preaches some automation, optimization and the careful design of virtual network resources as well, so it makes for good reading.

The paper is more interesting for the fact that Cisco seems to see the need to hose down enthusiasm for network virtualization despite being in the market.

Another eyebrow-raiser is the mention of server virtualization's dark side, as those pitfalls were often discovered by early VMware adopters.

Cisco and VMware used to be the best buddies and are still happy to be seen in public together when discussing the VCE joint venture or the NetApp/Cisco/VMware Flexpod stack-in-a-box/reference architecture, but are they still best buddies after this?

Behind the scenes, we can of understand that each would consider the other an enemy when it comes to network virtualization, and that would be fair to assume.

Cisco must know that by pointing out that server virtualization created some messes in the past two years and it is now spreading FUD-by-association in the direction of VMware's NSX network virtualization efforts. It will be interesting to follow these developments in the next year or so.

In other IT news

System admins and IT managers better take note of this. Microsoft is issuing stern warnings when migrating from the soon-to-be-unsupported Windows Server 2003 to Server 2012.

Additionally, the software giant has just discovered a new obstacle to migrations away from the dated operating system that it didn't know existed.

The issue manifests itself when users run Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2012 R2 domain controllers serving the same domain.

Some people who do so may also find thatthe Kerberos authentication protocol crashes as well, another source of guaranteed headaches.

When that happens, it becomes impossible for users to log in to servers, which isn't really going to help a migration effort.

Microsoft acknowledges the issue in a post titled “It turns out that weird things can happen when you mix Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2012 R2 domain controllers.”

That post adds that Microsoft is currently working on a fix, “but it’s going to take us some time to get it out to you.”

Just how much time it will take to create the fix isn't specified, however. The post admits the bug is a very big one, as running the two domain controllers in the same domain is just the kind of thing that can be necessary during a migration.

“We realize that upgrading an enterprise environment isn't easy, and much less so when your users start to have complex issues during your upgrade,” the post says.

The good news is that workarounds are possible, but those outlined in the post require a lot of working around to get when you need to go.

IT system admins and users experiencing the 'weird things' are advised to check with Microsoft for news about the hotfix when they become available.

In other IT news

A new microkernel that DARPA (The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) hopes to be bug free and used to protect drones from potential hacking will be released as open source tomorrow.

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The formal-methods-based secure embedded L4 (seL4) microkernel was developed by Australian scientists at National ICT Australia (NICTA) and was part of DARPA's High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems program developed two years ago to stop hackers knocking unmanned drones out of the sky.

At the time, it was underlined as the most advanced and highly-assured member of the L4 microkernel family due to its utilization of formal methods that didn't impact performance.

A microkernel differs from monolithic kernels – such as the Linux and Windows kernels – by running as much code as possible – from drivers to system services – in user space, making the whole thing more modular and in theory, more stable.

Tuesday at noon Eastern Australian Standard Time (GMT +10), seL4's entire source code including proofs and additional code used to build trustworthy systems will be released under the GPL v2 licence.

Overall, a group of mathematicians from around the world and some aviation experts from the likes of Boeing and Rockwell-Collins joined a team of dedicated NICTA researchers on the project which involved the seL4 operating system designed to detect and stop hacking attempts dead in their tracks.

NICTA senior researcher June Andronick said the microkernel should be considered by anyone building critical systems such as pacemakers and technology-rich cars.

"If your software runs the seL4 kernel, you have a guarantee that if a fault happens in one part of the system, it cannot propagate to the rest of the OS and in particular the critical parts," Andronick said.

"We provide a formal mathematical proof that this seL4 kernel is correct and guarantees the isolation between components," she added.

NICTA demonstrated in a video how a drone which runs the platform could detect hacking attempts from ground stations that would normally cause the flight software to die and the aircraft to crash.

"What we are demonstrating here is that if one of the ground stations is malicious, and sends a command to the drone to stop the flight software, the commercially-available drone will accept the command, kill the software and just drop from the sky," Andronick said.

Source: The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

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