New Developments in Network Virtualization, SDN: NTT's Enterprise Cloud Goes Global, Major TEMs Reveal SDN Strategies

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  May 20, 2013

In the March issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY, we talked about the flurry of activity – and acquisitions around – software-defined networking. In the April issue, TMC (News - Alert) leader Rich Tehrani asked: Are You Ready to be a Software Telco? And now, in this issue, we look at the most recent developments on the SDN front, which includes new data on the level of deployment of SDN, an update on NTT’s commercial SDN-based service, and the strategies of several leading telecom equipment vendors.

If you’re not yet familiar with SDN, it’s an architecture that separates the control and data planes of the network and automatically looks at flows in the network, understanding the requirements of those different flows, and using the network to provide those flows with the appropriate bandwidth and other network resources. This applications-first networking mindset is a significant change from how networks are designed and work today.

SDN Deployment

It’s early days for SDN. But it’s being used, or considered, for a variety of applications – including to interconnect data centers, and to allow broadband service providers to operate their networks more efficiently and flexibility so they can better respond to the over-the-top threat.

“Nearly 1/4 of the enterprises we interviewed for our new data center and SDN survey have already deployed SDN technology in their data centers, and 1/3 plan to do so by the end of next year,” said Sam Barnett, directing analyst for data center and cloud at Infonetics (News - Alert) Research. “This is impressive given the nascent nature of most SDN technologies and the relatively sophisticated IT community required to implement them.”

“IDC believes that the rapid global growth of data and video traffic across all networks, the increasing use of public and private cloud services, and the desire from consumers and enterprises for faster, more agile service and application delivery are driving the telecom markets toward an inevitable era of network virtualization,” said Nav Chander, research manager for telecom services and network infrastructure at IDC. “SDN and large-scale network virtualization will become a game shifter, providing important building blocks for delivering future enterprise and hybrid, private, and public cloud services.”

IDC’s Chander added that CSP networking of large data centers is the first area of focus for SDN.

NTT’s Enterprise Cloud

Indeed. NTT Communications has been an early adopter of SDN with the launch of its Enterprise Cloud, a service targeted at multinational organizations looking for highly flexible compute and other data center resources and capabilities. Enterprise Cloud, an SDN-based virtualized infrastructure-as-a-service offering, is now available via multiple data centers around the world. In June of 2012 the service went live at data centers in Hong Kong and Japan. This February it was added at data centers in California and Virginia, England, and Singapore. And in March it opened data centers in Australia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Nayan Naik, director of product strategy for the data center services business unit at NTT America Inc., told INTERNET TELEPHONY that the company’s SDN architecture (based on OpenFlow controllers from NEC) allows for automation and virtualization of the network. That lets customers adjust their resources as needed and offers the ability to connect their private networks to the cloud quickly and seamlessly.

That’s happening today, and delivering significant benefits to NTT Communications customers. For example, NTT Communications reports that one manufacturer customer has “realized dramatic results after integrating systems to the cloud that had become scattered as a result of rapid globalization: From 1700 servers to 500 servers and 500 virtual machines; from 200 locations with an on-premise system to 50; and from 20 network carriers to 1.” Meanwhile, a retailer was able to reduce its IT costs by going from five data centers to one, and move to centralized operations, by adopting Enterprise Cloud. And a large media company was able to reduce its overconcentration of data centers in one metropolis and total cost of ownership for ICT systems by migrating from a system with 500 servers to an integrated platform using cloud hosting and 90 servers.

NTT Communcations’ long-term vision is to leverage SDN to enable enterprise customers to shift workloads among international locations without requiring massive reconfigurations of virtual machines and other network assets. That, Naik said, should begin to happen in 2014.

Another thing that SDN and Enterprise Cloud will help enable going forward, he added, is the introduction of services, both from NTT Communications and from third-party cloud providers. An early example of this is NTT Communications’ recently introduced recovery-as-a-service portfolio, which includes cloud recovery and archiving that allow enterprises to back up their workloads, select from various disaster recovery options, and more.

Alan Weckel, vice president at Dell’Oro Group, said: “For the first time in the market, customers are consolidating data centers and connecting those servers to the network with three different speeds, gigabit Ethernet, 10 gigabit Ethernet, and 40 gigabit Ethernet. Moving infrastructure towards the hosted environment of the cloud and looking towards software-defined networking is resulting in a battle for supremacy in data center. It is also causing unique requirements and solutions across the customers. The result is that there has never been a better time for new entrants or a better opportunity for existing vendors to gain share.”

More M&A

This helps explain the wide array of SDN upstarts, many of which already have been snapped up by established network infrastructure providers.

As discussed in INTERNET TELEPHONY’s March issue story on SDN, VMware Inc. in July cut a deal to buy Nicira Inc. for $1.26 billion. That same month, Oracle followed suit with its purchase of privately owned Xsigo. Things picked up on the SDN acquisition front again in November, with Brocade revealing plans to acquire Vyatta, and Cisco announcing its intent to buy privately held Cariden Technologies, which reportedly has done some SDN work. Then, in December, Juniper Networks quietly made its move to bring SDN startup Contrail Systems into the fold.

Since then we’ve seen at least one more SDN-related acquisition. That one had F5 Networks Inc. buying LineRate Systems, which brings to the table layer 7+ networking services technology, intellectual property, and engineering talent.

“While SDN conversations have primarily been tied to L2-3 networking, F5’s view is that organizations will be able to make their systems much more nimble and efficient by combining the application intelligence of layer 7 – a key area of LineRate’s technology – with SDN efforts further down the stack,” Jason Needham, vice president of product management and product marketing at F5, told INTERNET TELEPHONY. “With the LineRate acquisition, we saw an opportunity to extend the programmability of our application delivery-focused offerings and enhance the capabilities we can offer customers. Through a broader lens, the acquisition is very much aligned with our continued approach of adding intelligence to the network and scaling services across x86 hardware. Looking forward, customers will see advances to F5’s existing portfolio of BIG-IP products, as well as new offerings to the market around SDN.”

Stand-alone Startups

But while many SDN specialists recently have been digested by larger organizations, several remain as stand-alone entities. The latter list includes Big Switch Networks (News - Alert), Compass-EOS, Embrane, ConteXtream, PLUMgrid, Midokura, and Pica8.

Compass-EOS on March 12 formally announced the r10004 core-grade modular routers, based on the company’s own chip-to-chip direct silicon-to-photonics implementation, and designed to increase network capacity and speed.

The devices already are at customer locations around the world. For example, a voice, Internet and cable provider in Japan uses the routers at the termination points of its transpacific high capacity network, and a U.S.-based media and technology company is leveraging the solution for high-bandwidth connectivity between the data centers that power its content delivery network.

 “A major concern for service providers today is how to scale their networks while simplifying operations and improving utilization. We set out to address that concern by building a new breed of routers,” said Gadi Bahat, CEO of Compass-EOS, whose investors include Cisco Systems, Comcast (News - Alert) Ventures, T-Ventures, as well as Benchmark Capital, Crescent Point, Northbridge Venture Partners and Pitango Venture Capital. “Our revolutionary router design built on icPhotonics simplifies the network, brings about cost savings, moves service providers toward SDN and network virtualization, and allows for better utilization.”  

Another SDN company that recently came out of stealth mode is three-year-old Pica8, which raised $6.6 million in funding from Vantage Point Capital, and offers what it bills as the world’s first open, hardware-independent switching system. The company’s switches already are in production networks, including with Baidu and Yahoo Japan, Steve Garrison, vice president of product marketing at Pica8, said.

At the moment, these industry giants are using the Pica8 solution as a top-of-rack replacement for legacy switches, said Garrison, but he added that these companies brought in the SDN solution provider to help them migrate to a programmable fabric. An SDN-based programmable fabric, he explained, will make it easy to move workloads between racks, rows or data centers, which today is a challenge.

Garrison added that although Pica8 today sells switches, it’s doing that just to get the marketing moving, and that it’s long-term plans are to sell only software. He added that Pica8 is more of a competitive threat to legacy switch vendors than anyone in the SDN space because it enables users to customize its OS, which has never before been done in switching. And, he added, users can program the Pica8 solution with external devices as long as they support OpenFlow.

Pica8 likes to talk about what it sees as the three stages of SDN. Stage one involves the use of OpenFlow. Stage two, which is where we are today, has Pica8 customers building solutions based on its reference design, which it made available in December and was expected to provide more detail on in the March/April time frame (after this issue went to press). Stage three is what Garrison referred to as the “ah ha” stage, where companies figure out what kind of new capabilities and services SDN can make possible.

To rewind to present day and stage two, the reference architecture is a development solution that combines the popular Open vSwitch 1.7.1 virtual switch with OpenFlow 1.2 implemented in Pica8’s PicOS operating system. Garrison said this spring Pica8 would have a better understanding of how its 20 cloud provider partners have been playing with the reference architecture in their labs so it can decide where to take the solution next.

It also should be noted that Pica8 is using an open source controller called Ryu, which came out of NTT.

“The Ryu open source controller helps data centers enjoy the benefits of SDN by providing a platform for the deployment of a wide range of network applications including cloud services,” said Fujita Tomonori, RYU chief maintainer at NTT Software Innovation Center. “We are proud to see Ryu being leveraged for cloud services and excited to see Pica8’s ongoing work to commercialize NTT Laboratories’ efforts and bring value to their customers and partners.”

TEMs Tell Their Stories

Meanwhile, leading telecom equipment vendors Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Juniper Networks have fleshed out their SDN stories. And in early April, just as this issue was going to print, there was at least one report circulating indicating that several major vendors as well as some SDN specialists –­ including Alcatel-Lucent, Arista Networks, Big Switch, Brocade, Cisco, Citrix, Dell, Ericsson, HP, Intel, Microsoft, aand NEC – have joined an open source SDN effort called OpenDaylight. A Computer World story compared OpenDaylight to Hadoop and WebKit.

Alcatel-Lucent’s SDN venture Nuage Networks last month announced an open software-based solution that it says addresses key data center network constraints that limit cloud services adoption. The solution, called Virtualized Services Platform, is aimed at enabling enterprises such as banking, health care and utilities, as well as large Internet-based companies like telcos, scale and secure their clouds. Trials of this solution launched last month with U.K. cloud service provider Exponential-e; French telco SFR, Canadian telco Telus, and U.S. health care organization University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. VSP is slated for general availability toward the middle of this year.

“It’s exciting to start my first day as CEO of Alcatel-Lucent with an announcement that expands our addressable market. Alcatel-Lucent’s SDN strategy and the Nuage Networks branded portfolio … builds on the cloud orchestration we already provide with our CloudBand Management System,” said new Alcatel-Lucent CEO Michel Combes. “We are very well positioned to help telecom and cloud service providers build large scale cloud infrastructure and services, opening up new revenue opportunities for our customers and ourselves.”

Ericsson in February introduced the Ericsson Cloud System, which will package some of the company’s existing applications and equipment in a virtualized format, and pair them with an OpenStack-based KVM hypervisor called Ericsson Cloud Executive Environment. Existing parts of the solution include the Ericsson Blade System and the Ericsson Smarter Service Router, as well as the company’s operations support system, which under this new solution is being called the Ericsson Cloud Manager. The company also plans to develop an app store of telecom applications as part of the offer, Magnus Furustam, vice president of product area core and IMS at Ericsson, told INTERNET TELEPHONY earlier this year. He added that Ericsson Cloud System will be an open environment, so will support both Ericsson apps as well as third-party software.

At Mobile World Congress, Ericsson demonstrated two service provider SDN applications using Ericsson Cloud System. Those applications included network virtualization and service chaining, both of which will be delivered commercially by Ericsson starting in the fourth quarter. Service chaining, Furustam explained, enables network operators to create what are essentially catalogs of network resources and related policies (like QoS parameters and bandwidth) to which applications can be applied as they move onto the network.

Since buying Contrail Systems in December and detailing its SDN strategy in January, Juniper more recently has unveiled new software and services aimed at mobile service providers.

“Mobile networks are perfectly suited to benefit from Juniper Network’s SDN approach,” said Bob Muglia, executive vice president of the software solutions division at Juniper. “Exponential mobile data usage coupled with an increasingly wide array of multimedia smartphones and tablets put enormous demands on high-performance networking.”

That includes the new Juniper Networks Junos Space Services Activation Director application, which enables service providers to provision thousands of seamless services, including MPLS and Carrier Ethernet for mobile backhaul. Also new is the Juniper Networks Mobile Control Gateway running as a virtualized function on the JunosV App Engine to provide signaling and control functions on 2G, 3G and LTE networks. It was developed in partnership with Hitachi. And Juniper’s JunosV App Engine centralizes the development, provisioning and management of Juniper Networks and third-party applications on a common platform.

Juniper says that, based on data from ACG Research, it expects customers of these solutions will see up to 65 percent in opex and up to 54 percent reduction in total cost of ownership.

“With mobile traffic growth exploding, operators need a virtualized mobile packet core for scaling capacity up and down to both increase service velocity and control costs,” said Ray Mota, managing partner for ACG Research. “Our research has validated that Juniper’s virtual Mobile Control Gateway has a 54 percent lower total cost of ownership over five years and the time to deploy the initial implementation is 46 percent faster than a standalone appliance-based solution. In addition, the virtual MCG provides incremental capacity additions in 87 percent less time, enabling operators to address the volatility of mobile control plane traffic driven by smartphones and smartphones apps.”

Overture in March introduced its Ensemble Open Service Architecture and the first product family, the 6500 series, under the Ensemble OSA umbrella. The Ensemble OSA architecture, which embraces the principles of SDN and network function virtualization, brings the benefits of cloud – including automation, accelerated innovation, and more – to the metro edge, according to Overture Director of Marketing Mark Durrett.

The 6500, which comes in three versions, is the first and only carrier Ethernet 2.0 aggregation solution that can support any access method, says Vijay Raman, Overture’s vice president of product management and marketing. It will initially be available for active Ethernet over fiber. Later releases will be for Ethernet over copper, Ethernet over SONET/SDH, and Ethernet over TDM. Use cases for this product include multiservice aggregating; ring homing, which Overture says is big in cellular networks; and wholesale Ethernet.

The Ensemble OSA architecture has three layers. The resources layer includes elements that provide connect, compute, and storage functionality. They may consist of physical devices such as switches, servers and storage arrays, and/or software functions running on virtual machines. The orchestration and control is software for data plane control, resource abstraction, and network management. And network applications include software packages that leverage the orchestration and control part and tie into a service provider’s back office systems and that of their business partners to create a service or network function. Overture offers some of the components found within each layer, but Durrett says the company doesn’t expect to do it all for all service providers, so it built OSA as an open platform, and all the layers are connected via open APIs.

Overture last year did a proof-of-concept for OSA with two applications, a bandwidth on demand one and virtual firewall one. As part of that work, it did basic orchestration and control (including OpenFlow and VM support), and at the resources layer it added OpenFlow and another API to the 6500. It tested all this and shared it with Overture’s carrier customers. Then it started investing in this in a big way – creating and hiring a team. This year Overture is working on customer proofs-of-concept and custom projects; building out an ecosystem partners; doing the first customer installs; and introducing Ensemble-powered hardware. By next year, Overture expects to introduce a wider array of Ensemble OSA products; move all its products under the Ensemble umbrella; integrate with third-party applications and devices; and do additional customer installations.

“We are on the cusp of a radical economic and cultural transformation driven by the network,” says Stuart Bailey, Infoblox’s (News - Alert) founder and CTO. “But to really unleash its potential, our network needs to be set free. We’ve been stuck in the world of hardware-defined networking, but the software defined networking control plane will prove to be the new operating system for the universe. SDN will fundamentally impact the networks we create daily to become a source and foundation of power and innovation. By shifting toward a model based on inexpensive, programmable switches driven by intelligent software, we can expect to meet growing network complexity head-on and scale for the challenges posed by BYOD, cloud computing/virtualization and future technologies.”

Edited by Stefania Viscusi