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OpenFlow Supports IPv6 Flows

Scott Hogg | Aug. 1, 2014
OpenFlow is a Software-Defined Networking (SDN) protocol used for southbound communications from an SDN controller to and from a network device. OpenFlow is the protocol used to inform the topology of network switches on which flows should be added to their flow tables and advise switches how they should handle traffic flows that are not in the current flow tables. Initially, OpenFlow did not have any definition for handling IPv6 communications. Now, newer OpenFlow versions have IPv6 capabilities and more vendors are deploying products that use the newer OpenFlow versions. This article goes over the IPv6 functions within the OpenFlow protocol and describes how these are being used.

The good news is that version 1.3 of OpenFlow was a target release and is getting wider adoption in deployments.  An example of an OpenFlow 1.3 compliant software switch is the Infoblox FlowForwarding Erlang-Solutions LINC implementation.  Plugfests and other tests are showing that there is growing adoption of OpenFlow 1.3 and there is hope for interoperability.  When the ONF release OpenFlow version 1.4 in June 2013 nothing changed regarding IPv6 support.  Now work has begun on OpenFlow 1.5 but it is unlikely there will be any change in the IPv6 features.

Other IPv6 and OpenFlow Examples:

There are starting to be more discussion of how to use OpenFlow for IPv6 traffic flows and more examples of IPv6 implemented into OpenFlow products.

In 2012 at the Asia-Pacific Advanced Network (APAN) meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Jun Bi from Tsinghua University, China gave a presentation on OpenFlow+ for IPv6 Source Address Validation.  The IETF Source Address Validation Improvements (SAVI) working group is working on how to use first-hop security techniques to help secure IPv6.  Related to this, Ivan Pepelnjak wrote a blog on "IPv6 First-Hop Security: Ideal OpenFlow Use Case".  This article covers the concept of how OpenFlow can be used to help secure the IPv6 Neighbor Discovery Protocol (NDP) because it suffers from many of the same vulnerabilities as IPv4 ARP.

In March 2013, William Stallings wrote an article in The Internet Protocol Journal, Volume 16, No. 1, titled "Software-Defined Networks and OpenFlow" where he wrote about the various elements of an OpenFlow table that includes the IPv6 header fields that can be matched.

At last year's gogoNET LIVE! 4 IPv6 conference in November, 2013 in Sunnyvale, Curt Beckmann gave a talk on "SDN meets IPv6".

Earlier this year, David R. Newman published a paper titled "Technology Validation Experiment: IPv6 and Multicast Support on OpenFlow".  This paper goes through the installation steps required to set up a dual-protocol network using mininet with OpenFlow 1.3 and LINC.

The OpenDaylight (ODL) controller has the ability to perform matching on IPv6 packets.

Pica8's Open vSwitch (OVS) supports IPv6 flows via OpenFlow.

NEC has an OpenFlow capable virtual switch (ProgrammableFlow PF1000) that works with Microsoft Windows Server 2012 and Hyper-V and has IPv6 support.

Huawei also has a video on their "SDN IPv6 Use Cases" and how they are tying together a mobile application with an SDN network using IPv6 in IPv4 tunneled flows.

Criterion Network Labs (CNLabs) is an interoperability testing facility for IPv6 and SDN implementations.  Similarly, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) InterOperabilty Laboratory (IOL) does testing of IPv6 Ready products and OpenFlow product conformance testing.


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