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SDN. Game On.

Sep 8, 2014

SDN’s benefits extend beyond the business to the consumer. ON.Lab’s Fahad Naeem Khan explores an everyday SDN use case – multiplayer online gaming.

One of the most exciting things about an innovation like SDN is the ability to see where it may extend to in the future. Cloud, data center, telco – we’ve heard so much of the potential for SDN in these areas. But networks touch all elements of modern society, from mobile devices and television to city and global infrastructures. Yes, SDN has clear benefits for the companies that provide products and services, but it also directly impacts the experience of the consumer.

For example, game developer Bungie (made famous by the Halo franchise) held a beta in July to test out their new massive multiplayer online (MMO) console game Destiny with consumers, in part to assess their network’s ability to handle potentially large numbers of game players at any given time. According to an announcement made by Activision Publishing, the beta was played by over 4.6 million unique gamers – the largest console beta for a new video game intellectual property (IP). That is some serious network traffic.

A key issue in MMO gaming is latency. With each move or change in gaming environment, an individual player’s console (known as a client) must transport and receive information packets via an Internet connection to and from an authoritative server, while also predicting actions in real-time, discouraging latency and enabling consistent gameplay for all users across the board (who may or may not have comparable Internet speeds, and may be communicating through real-time chat or VoIP interconnect via headsets). There are few things more frustrating to gamers than a lagging server connection due to slow Internet speeds or high bandwidth demands, putting them at a severe competitive disadvantage amongst their peers.

But this is where SDN could come into play. By enabling the gaming network to be automated and controlled via software, servers would be better equipped to dynamically handle varying amounts of traffic and bandwidth use, from peak gaming times to the slower hours of the day, at a lower cost. There is also the potential to better address variations in individual gamers’ Internet speeds by programming that control into the network. And the ability to extend these benefits to gamers could be an excellent opportunity for marketing or bandwidth/low-latency monetization.

I personally am working on OpenVirteX, a project within ON.Lab. OpenVirteX is a network hypervisor that allows us to dynamically create a virtual network. In this particular use case, the virtual network could be between the player and the online game. According to their requirements, we can dynamically change their network policies, hence dynamically changing their online gaming performance. Also, during higher-priority games such as tournaments, we are able to create a virtual network simply for the tournament, setting network policies to guarantee the required performance, and allowing us to cost-effectively and dynamically start, stop, and pause the virtual network.

Some gaming clients, such as Valve’s Steam, use cloud infrastructure for online gaming. OpenVirteX already supports OpenStack and in the near future will support VM migration for the cloud, so OpenVirteX and other SDN-based solutions can certainly play a role in helping with cloud gaming network performance as well.

Within the networking industry, it seems that we’re always asking when SDN will go mainstream. The answer lies in our ability to acknowledge and anticipate the ways that SDN can change not just business, but how each and every one of us lives. Use cases like this demonstrate the real-life potential of SDN and how it truly is a game-changer for networks.

– Fahad Naeem Khan, ON.Lab Engineer

Fahad is currently a Co-Op student from Wichita State University, working with the OpenVirtex team. He received his bachelor’s degree in Information and Communication System Engineering from the NUST-School of EE & CS (SEECS) Pakistan. He is currently working on his MS in Computer Networking from Wichita State University. His thesis, “Throughput Optimized Scheduling Algorithm for Data Networks,” focuses on SDN, under the guidance of Dr. Pu Wang. He completed the Coursera SDN course with distinction. Aside from academics, Fahad likes to watch movies, hang out with friends, and play cricket, online games, volleyball, and football.