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Google, Microsoft Challenge Service Providers

Mitch Wagner

SANTA CLARA — Open Networking Summit (ONS) 2014 — While service providers take their first steps toward implementing SDN, Google and Microsoft have been at it for years. They are huge, they are mature, and they are both potential threats and potential customer windfalls for service providers.

The two companies gave back-to-back presentations at ONS this week in which they described how they're using virtual networking to drive their cloud services.

"Andromeda" is the internal code word for Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s virtualized network, said Google distinguished engineer Amin Vahdat. Google believes its WAN may be the largest software defined WAN in the world, and Google has worked on its infrastructure for more than 10 years.

Amin Vahdat
Amin Vahdat

Andromeda is built based on Google's IT philosophy that scaling out beats scaling up, and a logically centralized hierarchical control plane with peer-to-peer data plane beats full centralization, Vahdat said.

The network needs to meet Google's requirements, including each customer needs an isolated virtual network, separate from others; the network needs to be resistant to DDoS attacks; it must map external services to internal namespaces; and support authentication, authorization, and billing. And the network needs to maintain efficiency while doing all that, Vahdat said.

SDN is required for Google to meet its business needs, to provide isolated, high-performance networks with end-to-end QoS and availability, Vahdat said. (See Defining SDN & NFV.)

Andromeda incorporates APIs for NFV, to get away from dedicated appliances for functions including load balancing, security, and access control.

One benefit Google has not seen from cloud computing is simplification, Vahdat said. "Cloud computing hasn't made operations easier -- yet. I believe it must and it will."

For Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s part, SDN is part of its Windows Azure platform, said Albert Greenberg, development director for the Windows Azure networking at Microsoft. SDN helps provide Microsoft's cloud offering with agility, he said.

Albert Greenberg
Albert Greenberg

Azure is designed to allow companies to move their IT infrastructure to the public cloud for elastic scaling that's less expensive than an on-premises data center, and it runs Microsoft's major properties, including Office 365, OneDrive, Skype, Bing, and Xbox.

SDN is the solution that allows Microsoft to scale virtual networks across millions of servers, with flexibility, timely feature rollout, and the ability to debug problems. SDN also allows Azure to be a part of each customer's internal network, to make managing the cloud easier for Microsoft customers. "Azure is just another branch office of your enterprise, via VPN," Greenberg said.

Using SDN, Microsoft supports more than 50,000 virtual networks over 100,000 servers in a data center, Greenberg said.

"The key is how can we scale and be agile," Greenberg said. Microsoft’s “battle-tested” Azure server software will be offered for private clouds through Windows Server, he said.

Greenberg and a colleague demonstrated ExpressRoute, an automated configuration tool that allows customers to configure their own SDNs with a few minutes of clicking and typing in a browser.

Microsoft and Google made impressive demonstrations, and they appear to have a significant lead over service providers in deploying SDNs. We've seen this week how service providers are taking their first steps toward implementing SDN. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has a huge, ambitious plan and says it is a good way along in implementing, but concedes it also has a very long way to go. Major US wireless operators say they’ve yet to see cost benefits from SDN. Meanwhile, both Google and Microsoft have been at it with SDNs for many years.

Google and Microsoft are potential threats to service providers that are looking to become cloud providers. They will find Microsoft and Google have gotten there first.

On the other hand, special-purpose cloud providers like Google and Microsoft have to buy networking connectivity themselves in order to serve their customers. And that's a great opportunity for service providers to expand their business.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading.

Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to mwagner@lightreading.com.

Want to learn more about this topic? Check out the agenda for The Big Telecom Event (BTE), which will take place on June 17 and June 18 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. The event combines the educational power of interactive conference sessions devised and hosted by Heavy Reading's experienced industry analysts with multi-vendor interoperability and proof-of-concept networking and application showcases. For more on the event, the topics, and the stellar service provider speaker line-up, see Telecommunication Luminaries to Discuss the Hottest Industry Trends at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event in June.

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Liz Greenberg
Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/14/2014 | 5:59:59 PM
Re: Learning from the "new kids in the sandbox"
@FakeMitch, I hope that we some co-opetition amongst the players.  It would probably serve them all best to share some, after all even 5 year olds learn to share in the sandbox!
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/14/2014 | 5:20:01 PM
Re: Learning from the "new kids in the sandbox"
Thanks, Liz! It will be interesting to see how the relationships between Webscale companies and service providers play out. There's the potential for cooperation and competition. 

I expect we'll see an acquisition unless regulators bloc it. 
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/10/2014 | 9:14:51 PM
Re: Learning from the "new kids in the sandbox"
Based on my experience as a camp counselor in my teens, I can tell you that a dozen or so six-year-olds can definitely take down a strapping young man.

This is, of course, completely off-topic and not at all a metaphor for anything currently happening in the service provider industry.
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/10/2014 | 4:06:32 PM
Re: Learning from the "new kids in the sandbox"
The incumbent telcos don't really have much to be worried about... they've seen plenty of innovative technologies enter the market -- and not even come close to disrupting their monopolies. SDN services operate on top of the physical network... and guess who controls the physical layer? 

User Rank: Light Sabre
3/10/2014 | 12:53:16 PM
Network connectivity
Do Google and Microsoft buy inter-DC network connectivity from the service providers or do they just buy/lease dark fiber and operate it themselves ?
Liz Greenberg
Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/10/2014 | 1:23:43 AM
Re: Learning from the "new kids in the sandbox"
I think that you are right @DOShea.  The telcos are used to being in the big kids picking on the little kids.  They forgot that the little kids grew up, had some steriods and can now kick sand in their collective faces.  So they would be wise to pay attention and learn.
User Rank: Blogger
3/7/2014 | 9:59:55 PM
Re: Learning from the "new kids in the sandbox"
I think there's a little bit of a fear factor there. The telcos probably don't want to believe they can or should have to learn anything about SDN from Google or anyone considered more of a software or Internet company. There's maybe still some belief that Google's SDN story is different from what their own will be.
Liz Greenberg
Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/7/2014 | 6:46:53 PM
Learning from the "new kids in the sandbox"
Great article Mitch.  I think that you nailed it and that the telcos would be wise to learn from Microsoft, Google, and every other applications vendor who has already been playing in this sandbox.  Maybe it is even an opportunity for Microsoft and Google to consult for the telcos?
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/7/2014 | 6:46:16 PM
WAN vs. Datacenter
It depends if you are talking about the true backbone WAN networks versus datacenter networks where virtualization scale is needed with lots of tenant networks.  

AFAIK, Google still uses Juniper routers using the age-old RSVP-TE MPLS they have always used for their core backbone network.  In those regards they are pretty much the same as every other service provider network.  The edges of their network are very intelligent however and definitely use SDN-like mechanisms to control and balance traffic.  
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