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October 25, 2012

ATIS Group to Explore Software Defined Networks from the Carrier Perspective

By Joan Engebretson, Contributing Editor

The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions has organized what ATIS (News - Alert) Chief Technologist Joe Rostock is calling a “landscape team” to explore software defined networking as it relates to telecom service providers. In an interview this week, Rostock declined to reveal which companies will be participating on the team, but said the team will be representative of ATIS’ service provider and manufacturer members.

The team plans to get started soon and to complete its work within six months. “The deliverable will be recommendations to our membership to move forward in a more detailed direction, one way or another,” Rostock said.

Rostock doesn’t envision the team generating any RFPs but he said his expectation is that the team will be able to “drive the technology and focus” of SDN development for the service provider market.

An important element of SDN is the ability to have a control plane that is managed through software and is not ingrained in individual network elements – and ultimately that capability could create opportunities for service providers to create new value-added services that can generate new revenues. For example, a service provider might give enterprise customers the ability to turn on additional bandwidth or a special quality of service level for a limited period of time.

Rostock doesn’t see those capabilities as part of the initial focus of the landscape team, however. “What’s being developed now is the capability to have that control,” he said.

For now service providers are most interested in the network efficiencies they can obtain from SDN, said Rostock. The number one driver of service provider SDN initiatives is “very much the efficiencies and optimization of networks and the network management that SDN offers,” he said.

Network equipment that will be impacted by SDN includes switches and routers – “initially in the Ethernet space,” Rostock noted. And he envisions a relatively slow migration from today’s switches and routers to new SDN-based offerings.

“I see it more as an organic build,” said Rostock. For example, he anticipates that if a switch or router needs replacing, a service provider will replace it with new equipment supporting SDN. “I don’t see it as a flash cut,” he said.

Rostock mentioned operational issues several times during our conversation. “We’ll be looking at how SDN will impact carrier operations and processes,” he said. “What carriers have deployed is incredibly sophisticated and complex and making any change can impact services integration, billing and the management practices that go into it.”

The new ATIS SDN team is just one of many industry groups that are looking at this new technology, but Rostock sees the ATIS effort as unique. Where ATIS’s initiative differs from others, he said, is in “having awareness and leadership for what’s evolving and how it all fits together within the operator ecosystem -- and that’s broader than the technology itself.”

He also noted, however, that an important role of the ATIS SDN group will be to determine which other industry groups it will need to work with.

“We will need to assess who we need to coordinate our efforts with,” he said. “That’s a big part of it.”

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