NFV (Network functions virtualization)

SDN Opens Datacenter Door to ZTE

ZTE might be the smallest of the global telecom vendors, but its plans to capitalize on the emerging SDN (software-defined networking) market are as ambitious as any of its bigger rivals.

Mo Li, chief architect of the ZTE Corp. CTO group, sees "very good opportunities" for the vendor as the market embraces SDN, and in particular thinks the trend offers ZTE a route into markets where it currently has a limited footprint, such as the datacenter.

ZTE has a team of about 2,500, or 9 percent of its total R&D staff, working on SDN and network functions virtualization (NFV), says Mo, who heads up the team from Dallas. Most of these R&D staff are based outside China, because "that's where the technology comes from."

ZTE says it's testing its SDN-enabled technology with two operators. One can't be named, but the other is China Mobile Ltd., with which it has just undertaken a second round of interoperability tests. ZTE's solution was the only one based on OpenFlow 1.3, according to Mo.

He says ZTE is responding to a continuous stream of SDN RFPs (request for proposals) and proof-of-concept requests from network operators. Mostly, telcos are looking for operating expense (opex) savings, he says, and are focused on the network edge. (See Carriers Say SDN Won't Save Capex.)

"Most of the operators I talk to are more interested in 'SDN-ization' on the edge," Mo says, because it gives them more control and reduces maintenance calls. "In the core, network operators are very cautious. [At] the edge, they're much more willing to experiment."

ZTE sees its main SDN opportunities in optical access equipment and in the datacenter: optical access, because the vendor is one of the biggest suppliers in the global market; and datacenters for more or less the opposite reason. (See ZTE Claims FTTx CPE Leadership and BT Puts ZTE's XGPON to Work.)

Operators, it seems, are keen to test new ways of managing their optical networks. "Every time we introduce an OLT [optical line terminal] to customers they have to make a connection between the OLT and the network inside the core," something that can be established automatically using ZTE's OpenFlow-based controller, according to Mo. "So we essentially add some value for the operators, with the minimum changes for the environment."

Then there's the datacenter, where a lot of the SDN action is taking place. That's attractive to ZTE because, currently, it "doesn't have much" datacenter business, Mo admits.

The transition "from the traditional datacenter business to the SDN datacenter -- that's an opportunity and that's why we are so interested, to get into the datacenters," though there's no shortage of established competition there already. (See Huawei Adds to Its SDN Arsenal, Vello & Centec to Demo SDN, NEC's SDN Switch in EANTC Test, and Alcatel-Lucent Spins Up Its SDN.)

That said, he sees SDN as offering solutions well beyond the datacenter, in particular for "configuration problems and to automate tasks which traditionally have been pretty hard to do."

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

R Clark 11/4/2013 | 5:50:10 PM
Re: Tough pitch outside APAC maybe Yes, they're not going to make into many North American and European data centres, but they will probably follow their telecom equipment playbook and focus on the Middle East, Africa and Latin America first.
sam masud 11/4/2013 | 1:21:41 PM
Re: Tough pitch outside APAC maybe I think at a macro level things are going to be dicey across the global for some time. While China isn't immune from what's happening globally and its economy also has slowed, China is focusing on a growing domestic market--and that, I think, might give ZTE time to prove its SDN solution(s) and become a viable SDN vendor.
Carol Wilson 11/4/2013 | 11:54:12 AM
Re: Tough pitch outside APAC maybe I would agree with Ray - the data center market is already brimming over with SDN solutions and I don't know what would attract folks to consider ZTE other than price, and even there, it would be tough.

The network management realm for optical transport appears more wide open right now - a lot of discussion and potential solutions but nothing definitive. 
[email protected] 11/4/2013 | 7:09:10 AM
Tough pitch outside APAC maybe For sure, anything that ZTE does will get traction in China (as with Huawei) but pitching to datacenter operators internationally afresh might be a bit too much to expect, given the headway others have already made AND given the security paranoia that exists re Chinese tech.

Introducing SDN-based network management techniques into its optical infrastructure portfolio looks like a move that would gain more traction with customers.

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