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Open SDN Driving the Operator Market

Christopher Eldredge

The interest and discussion around software-defined networking (SDN) is rapidly increasing. Though the technology permeates numerous other network-driven industries, throughout most of the carrier market, it has now reached the researching and trialing stage. NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT) has taken it a step further and is deploying.

Open source is new to the operator market, but it is the way of the future as SDN makes its way more prominently to carrier networks.

The demands placed upon network operators are constantly increasing and forcing them to look into new technologies. The open environment surrounding SDN is a seemingly significant departure from the hardware-centric norm of the carrier market, but at a closer look, it may not be. Open-source programs are common in the enterprise, and virtualization and the cloud have become ubiquitous. Carriers have hosted enterprise clouds, provided for all these services, and are now looking into taking advantage of them.

OpenFlow is the natural choice for an open-source platform for network operators to deploy enterprise-class, SDN-based cloud solutions. Given the constant need for scalability in carrier networks, it makes perfect sense for operators to implement software-centric solutions. Operators are deploying SDN-based clouds around the world, and many lean on OpenFlow and the concept of more open network environments in general. The cloud has become the norm in business. Multiple sectors are turning to the flexibility of open software-based solutions. This trend holds especially true internationally.

As an example, one particular Japanese motor manufacturer was looking to migrate all information and communication technology (ICT) systems to an enterprise cloud, but since it is a multinational company with 140 group companies in 30 countries/regions around the world, the sheer magnitude of the migration made it extremely complex. Furthermore, most of the company's mission-critical systems, which encompass about 700 servers, are owned and operated primarily on premises in Japan, even though they are accessed by its group companies worldwide.

Migration to the cloud enabled this manufacturing company to cut ICT costs significantly by consolidating dispersed servers, networks, and other ICT systems on to cloud services. In choosing a cloud provider, the company sought a partner with flexible scalability, powerful backup capacity, and redundant datacenters in multiple low-risk locations. SDN is the key technology that enables cloud providers to deliver solutions that meet all these demands but remain cost efficient. OpenFlow-based SDN enables operators to optimize their networks for delivery of scalable, enterprise-class cloud solutions.

The transition to carrier network SDN is in a much earlier stage, but a joint project among Japanese companies is aiming to change that quickly.

The Open Innovation over Network Platforms R&D Project -- also known as the O3 Project -- is a groundbreaking joint effort among NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701), NTT Com, Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), and Hitachi Ltd. (NYSE: HIT; Paris: PHA). It is the world's first R&D project that seeks to make a variety of WAN elements compatible with SDN. The project aims to achieve wide area SDN that will enable telecommunications carriers to reduce the time to design, construct, and change networks by approximately 90% when compared to conventional methods. The openness offered by the diverse SDN ecosystem already has permeated numerous network-driven industries, but this joint project marks the first steps taken publicly to bring it to mass adoption within the carrier market.

WANs support communications services across many types of networks, challenging operators to construct networks to meet a wide range of service requirements, including network performance, protocols, and processing, while starting services promptly. The resulting multi-layer networks are difficult and costly to manage.

The O3 project aims to establish virtualization technology that enables multiple carriers and service providers that share resources to construct and manage their networks to address the needs of their end users. At the same time, it aims to share and standardize research results globally, making some of the results open to the public and providing them to domestic and overseas telecommunications carriers and service providers and vendors. Embracing new technological innovations like this is a major key to maintaining a leadership position in any network-driven industry.

Christopher Eldredge is executive vice president of datacenter services at NTT America Inc.

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