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SDNs move from theory to reality

Jim Duffy | March 6, 2014
AT&T, NTT, others share implementation experiences, strategies at Open Networking Summit 2014.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — SDNs have gone from concept to reality.

Users that were listening to vendor and researcher pitches on the benefits of software-defined networking at Open Networking Summit just a few years ago have taken over the dais and are now sharing their initial implementation experiences.

Virtually all of those virtualisation experiences are from service providers that have urgent requirements to make their networks more agile and automated in order to turn up new services that are the lifeblood of their business.

"Abstraction is a solution for everything," says venture capitalist Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures, which funded many an SDN startup.  "The problems — opex cost reduction, provisioning complexity, visibility and diagnostics, hardware network appliances, brittle network, difficult fault isolation — SDNs is a stronger intellectual foundation of networking, helps define the right abstractions, formally verify correct network behavior, identify bugs and track down their root cause."

Japanese telecom giant NTT is using SDNs and the OpenFlow protocol to virtualize routers and switches within and between cloud data centers to automate and expedite configuration changes for enterprise customers. It's also developing a single controller to configure MPLS VPN and data center VLAN edge routers between data centers using OpenFlow, said Yukio Ito, senior vice president of infrastructure at NTT.

And through its recent acquisition of cloud provider Virtela, NTT is adopting Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) to offer automated, cloud-based firewall, WAN acceleration and SSL remote access services to enterprises on-demand. NTT also plans to adopt the OpenStack Neutron API to orchestrate SDN controllers and cloud operations, and save on capital and operations expenses, Ito said.

SDN and NFV at AT&T is a culture change, according to John Donovan, senior executive vice president of technology and network operations. Not only will SDN and NFV disrupt AT&T's entrenched service network, it will disrupt the way the carrier does business.

"We're changing everything: how the network is built, how we're buying equipment and software, our operations and culture," Donovan said during his Open Networking Summit keynote. "We're using a consumption model for purchasing and provisioning. We're tapping into open principles to make that happen."

The overhaul is AT&T's Domain 2.0 network virtualization project to embrace commodity, white box hardware and SDN controllers. AT&T is dedicating its entire capital budget to this new infrastructure, Donovan said, and has reached out to 100 established vendors and 1,200 start-ups to evaluate potential participation in it.

"This is not a closed room with a handful of companies making decisions," Donovan said. "It's an open process. We're calling on the industry at large to move quickly with us."

Domain 2.0 is also an ongoing competitive process that will not shun a vendor that comes late to the game but may have built a better mousetrap, Donovan said.


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