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How Do You Get to SDN From Here?

Carol Wilson

The Open Networking Foundation is taking on one of the trickier aspects of the move to virtualization, publishing a document that details migration strategies for the move to software-defined networking (SDN) in campus, service provider edge, and wide-area networks. (See ONF Offers Guidance On SDN Migration.)

Developed by the Open Networking Foundation Migration Working Group and published Tuesday, the aptly titled "Migration Use Cases and Methods" draws heavily on the experience of three SDN pioneers: Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), NTT Group (NYSE: NTT), and Stanford University , to offer best-practices and lessons learned from real-world deployments.

Among its core recommendations are the need for gap analysis to determine the impact the move to SDN will have on current services, creation of pre- and post-migration checklists to guide assessments of connectivity and service continuity checks, and well-documented back-out procedures that can be used "in case of unexpected results."

"We set this up as a framework for SDN deployment," says Justin Dustzadeh, chief technology officer and vice president of technology strategy at Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , and chair of the ONF Migration Working Group. The idea was to look closely at what the three SDN deployments had done and to come back with a pragmatic approach that can be used across the industry.

That approach is laid out in stages, Dustzadeh says, beginning with defining the core requirements of a target OpenFlow-based network, continuing with preparation for the rollout, then moving on to laying out the steps of a phased migration and making sure that at each stage there is a rollback mechanism. In the final and fourth stage, the service provider needs to test and verify the SDN-based services, as well as the impact of the move to SDN on its original services.

Different networks, different views
The working group specifically chose three deployments in different parts of the network: Stanford linked two campus buildings, NTT used OpenFlow to connect edge routers to an external control plane, and Google created its much-ballyhooed B4 wide-area network based on SDN. (See NTT Advances SDN and Google: SDN Works for Us.)

The document is the first product of a working group that was launched in April 2013 in response to very real concerns by ONF members that moving to SDN might require the impossible: ditching billions of dollars of investment in current networks.

"A lot of people were saying they didn't want to throw money away, and they needed to know how they get there from here," says Dan Pitt, ONF executive director. Existing working groups weren't directly addressing the migration challenge in a practical way.

Next up for the Migration Working Group is exploration of the specific software tools and metrics needed to support the process of migrating to SDN, with the goal of bringing the IT world's level of automation for software upgrade to the carrier space, says Dustzadeh.

Along the way, his group isn't specifically addressing how carriers build the business case for SDN migration, but it is providing greater information and insight that can be used in that regard, he says.

"We have ongoing studies to also address the cost, performance, and other aspects that might be relevant in the bigger picture of SDN migration," Dustzadeh says. "Today, most operators and CEOs and business decision makers are trying to find out what does it take, what is it going to cost me, and what is the long-term return on investment, not only for simplifying my network but also enabling me to introduce new services more quickly and efficiently."

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
2/23/2014 | 2:58:01 AM
Re: Will incumbents invest in SDN anytime soon?
My original point was that incumbent providers have to balance their existing investments against deploying new technologies. SDN will have an adoption rate that will depend on its ROI for each particular carrier.
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/23/2014 | 2:53:04 AM
Re: Will incumbents invest in SDN anytime soon?
Seven, You make it sound like incumbents couldn't adopt SDN at nearly any reasonable speed due to having too many employees. But if SDN adoption could guarantee a hefty ROI, I'm sure the technical grunts that make up such a small fraction of a 100,000 person organization would all be told to drop whatever else they were doing to deploy SDN technologies ASAP.
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/22/2014 | 10:41:36 AM
Re: Will incumbents invest in SDN anytime soon?
You guys talk about this like it is the incumbent's control. Imagine a company with 100,000 people. 10% or less are skilled technically. The rest follow detailed rules set out by those small few. The skilled have to figure out a way to mainstream the technology because the snotty nosed kids who showed up with it surely didn't. Those folks assumed that the most important thing that the Tier 1 carrier could do would be to turn their organization on its head to adopt this new, unproven technology. Rule 1 - Think about the problem from the customer's viewpoint. Seven
User Rank: Light Beer
2/21/2014 | 9:44:13 PM
Re: Will incumbents invest in SDN anytime soon?
That's usually the trend when it comes to adopting new technology. OLd & big is hard to make "new" things happen. When you're lean & have less to lose, it's easier to try things out. If you fail, it hurts you less (relatively speaking).
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/21/2014 | 7:07:51 PM
Will incumbents invest in SDN anytime soon?
It's been said more than a few times that incumbent service providers have little incentive to adopt disruptive/innovative technologies because they rely much more on squeezing every last drop of profit out of their existing infrastructure investments.

A recent interview with wireless pcell CEO, Steve Perlman, reminded me of this:

What I've learned the hard way is incumbents, just because of the priorities they have and the triages they have to make, they sometimes would rather sit on a technology that disrupts the established structure, rather than have something deployed. Very often I've found that companies know they can't move quickly to go and take advantage of some new technology because of their internal inertia.

So it wouldn't surprise me that migration to SDN might take some carriers a bit longer to do, especially if their current infrastructure investments are sizable. It's the smaller operators who will be more willing to try out SDN because they have less existing revenue to lose and more operating profitability to gain.

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