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DukeNet Takes SDN to Demo Phase

Carol Wilson
12/19/2013

Regional network operator DukeNet Communications is taking its early exploration of software-defined networking into the real world, launching a proof-of-concept demo to show how to use SDN to make the WAN more flexible in supporting datacenters. (See DukeNet to Demo SDN With Cyan.)

Working with vendors Cyan Inc. and Accedian , the demo is intended to prove that DukeNet Communications can virtualize its network along with the virtual machines in datacenters to deliver flexible, on-demand services for its customers and show it can do so in fast response to growing demand, says David Herran, VP of network architecture and technology planning. It is still a lab demo, but is the prelude to a customer trial expected in the first quarter of 2014.

In the demo, an enterprise server requests additional cloud datacenter virtual machines and associated network resources using OpenStack application program interfaces and OpenFlow across the DukeNet network.

Herran and Brian Sutterfield, director of technology/principal technologist at DukeNet, which operates fiber optic networks in the Southeast region of the US, said in an interview with Light Reading that DukeNet's year-long exploration of SDN's benefits is very focused on real-world problems the carrier faces in connecting a large datacenter population in the region that stretches from Ashburn, Va., through Georgia. (See A View of SDN From the DukeNet Sandbox.)

"We made it clear to our vendors it is really important for us, because we do a lot of transport into datacenters, as well as carrier facilities, large enterprises and tower infrastructure… we are looking for operational efficiencies, and the ability to do end-to-end service automation for our customers, which is part of this demo," Herran said. "We need the ability to give them access to a portal and let them turn up virtual Ethernet services across the network and spin up virtual machines in the datacenter environment."

DukeNet has already automated its network, he adds, and is familiar with the concepts behind SDN. But today's tools are still vendor-specific and limited in scope. What SDN is promising is much more.

DukeNet chose to work with Cyan's BluePlanet SDN platform, which serves as the controller and proxies the compute and datacenter network demands to an OpenStack server in the cloud datacenter. Through element adapters, BluePlanet can perform the necessary functions to turn up services in the DukeNet network. That network includes Carrier Ethernet and optical edge devices from Accedian.

Ultimately, DukeNet would need element adapters for all of its network gear and functions. But that is not the only thing missing from a real-world SDN deployment. A billing system able to address on-demand services that turn up and turn down as needed is one key missing part, says Sutterfield.

DukeNet is a bit ahead of most other service providers in its SDN exploration. It has the benefit of operating a regional network that doesn't have as many generations of technology as some other networks, notes Joe Cumello, chief marketing officer at Cyan. But the network operator's goals for SDN are very similar to others: DukeNet wants to make its business more agile through service automation, faster provisioning times, and multi-vendor support, Cumello notes.

It isn't entirely certain what happens to DukeNet's SDN exploration when the company becomes part of Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). That deal is expected to close in early 2014. The expectation is that the SDN expertise will be shared with the parent company and will continue to roll out within DukeNet's network, says spokesperson Ron Proleika. (See TWC Scoops Up DukeNet.)

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

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Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson
12/19/2013 | 12:05:20 PM
What other demos will we see shortly?
I'm expecting to see more announcements like this - efforts by service providers to do real-world applications of the early SDN and NFV gear. 
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