RMIT University builds virtual networking labs for students

University builds on SDN partnership with HP

Melbourne's RMIT University has worked with HP to build virtual networking labs to help students learn about software-defined networking.

The software will allow students to engage in self-directed study at home, according to Ben O'Neill, deputy director for infrastructure delivery at RMIT's Information Technology Services group.

"We haven't provided it to the students yet; it's likely to go out semester one," O'Neill said.

The university in late September announced a partnership with HP to open up an SDN hardware lab for students. As part of the partnership, HP has provided students with an SDN controller and an HP 3800 OpenFlow switch.

"I think most universities by now have either got plans for or have hired SDN specialist academics," O'Neill said.

"Many of them are lighting up or a planning to light up their SDN training There have been already a few MOOC courses around SDN but most of those are in programming, so we see at the moment there's probably a bit of a gap in the network engineering side as to how to deploy it."

Students preparing for a career in the industry will still require an understanding of conventional networking and routing and switching, O'Neill said.

"There's not going to be any greenfields end-to-end SDN stuff happening because at some point you've got to connect to a legacy Internet POP or something.

"So for the time being you're talking about students needing to understand what is SDN in a hybrid deployment model. They need traditional networking skills, but I guess the mindset we're looking for in these students and indeed IT staff is really that ability to think of problems — these routing problems, and switching problems — using software thought patterns. They need to be a software engineer — that that algorithmic mindset."

"From my perspective, if I think about how it pertains not just to what I do here but also to what I've done in the past in the commercial sector, I see SDN as giving us the capability that we've wanted for a long time in the networking space," O'Neill said.

"The reason I think that we can get that from SDN is because of its programmatic capability: Anything that's possible in software is now possible on the network. That opens up a lot of opportunities and all of the constraints that I have to deal with in a traditional network all of a sudden melt away."

RMIT University has itself begun deploying SDN, O'Neill said. The university has already rolled out OpenFlow-capable switches and has begun turning on OpenFlow support port-by-port.

"We lit up the first production network port in February," O'Neill said.

"We already have our first floors running on SDN and we're looking to expand that deployment across the rest of the campus over the next year and a half," he added.