NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT)'s pioneering efforts at software-defined network deployment are so far reaping internal rewards, not direct customer benefits, in large part because the enterprises themselves are not entirely ready for SDNs, according to the CTO of NTT America Inc.
NTT has been using SDN technology since June of 2012, developed in collaboration with VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW), to connect its data centers with the networking equipment located at customers' locations. (See SDN Is Nothing New at NTT and NTT Advances Carrier SDN.)
The company's expectation was that customers would be able to interface their own networks to NTT's network and integrate services on an automated, software-controlled basis. What the company has discovered, however, is that the industry hasn’t matured to that level, NTT America CTO Doug Junkins says, and many enterprises "are still fairly manual in how they handle network configuration."
As a result, the early benefits of SDN have been greater internal efficiency in reduced operations costs and higher reliability of the network due to greater automation and less room for human error, he says. NTT had already developed its own software to automate its global IP network using an internally developed element management system to control Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) routers. With SDN, NTT is able to automate that process further to provision network services more quickly and therefore to deliver those services more efficiently to its customers.
"We have seen opex cost savings, because there are not as many people touching the network and making changes," Junkins says. "The real benefit of SDN so far has been around automation, which doesn't necessarily mean OpenFlow and all the buzz words."
Customers are certainly benefitting from the improved efficiency and greater reliability of service, Junkins says. As the industry matures, there will be more direct benefits to customers. NTT is working with its enterprise customers to demonstrate the benefits of SDN but, as often is the case, many enterprise CTOs are wary of change.
To date, the opex savings aren't flowing to the bottom line, Junkins says, as NTT continues to reinvest in expanding its deployments.
"I don't think we have seen bottom line impacts at this point. Given that everything is evolving so quickly, the resources that may be freed up from net ops and provisioning through automation are being applied to continue moving the platform forward, so it is more of a reallocation than an actual savings," he says. "We are continuing to evolve the product, and we have a healthy roadmap of new features to add to it."
Junkins admits he is actually surprised as how quickly things are evolving on the carrier side and how much more work needs to be done.
"It is a much more complicated service to offer than IP backbone transit -- the complexity is a little more surprising than what I expected it to be," he says. "That's one of the things we are trying to do is figure out ways to simplify it so it can become more efficient and scale -- one of the critical things is simplifying the service into a structured set of services that can be put together into a solution for a customer -- and then making each of those efficient to operate and interoperate."
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading