Rethinking virtual private networks in the software-defined era

Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have seen an unparalleled increasing adoption in the last decade. Although their flexibility as transport technology and their effectiveness for traffic engineering are well recognized, VPNs are difficult to set up and manage, due to the complexity of configurations, to the number of involved protocols, and to the limited control and predictability of network behaviors. On the other hand, Software-Defined Networking (SDN) is a consolidated, yet still emerging paradigm by which the control plane logic of a network device is implemented by an arbitrarily programmed software that runs outside the device itself.

We conjugate the effectiveness of traditional VPNs with the programmability of SDN, proposing a novel and improved realization of MPLS VPNs based on SDN. With our approach, provisioning and setup of VPNs are accomplished by using a simple and flexible configuration language. Management and troubleshooting are facilitated because only a minimal set of technologies (notably, just MPLS) is retained. Control and predictability of network behaviors are enhanced by the centralized coordination enforced by the SDN controller. Besides illustrating our proposed approach and specifying the configuration language, we describe a prototype implementation of a controller and the outcome of tests we conducted in several configuration scenarios.

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