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The Future of Carrier SDN Networks

Sterling Perrin
5/7/2015
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As we gear up for Light Reading's inaugural Carrier SDN Networks event in Denver on May 12, there's plenty to talk about. In just a few short years, software-defined networking (SDN) has risen from academic obscurity to the most transformative business and technology trend telecom has seen in decades. Since Google, in 2011, first demonstrated that SDN can transcend its data center origins and bring its cost and efficiency benefits to the WAN, the industry has witnessed an explosion of service provider activity around SDN applications.

Beyond Google's B4 internal data center interconnect network, here are just a few prominent examples of SDN progress in the WAN over the past couple of years:

  • NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT) is using SDN to connect cloud data centers spanning across ten countries around the globe. The operator first launched this service in 2013.

  • In September 2013, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) announced its ambitious Software-Defined Network Architecture, a transformative initiative in which AT&T is moving its network architecture from a hardware-centric to software-centric environment. It is among the boldest moves into SDN and NFV announced by any Tier 1 operator.

  • Hong Kong's Pacnet (now part of Australia's Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS)) launched what we believe is the world's first commercial optical layer SDN network in March 2015.

  • Most recently, just last month, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) announced its own SDN network transformation initiative along with several key technology partners that will underpin that effort.

The initial technology hype stage has passed, and operators are now grappling with the hard questions that come with concrete implementation and commercialization: How will SDN really transform the way networks are built and operated? And how will it change service creation, customization, delivery, monitoring and monetization?

Here are some of the big topics on the minds of service providers right now, based on Heavy Reading research:

  • Real-world use cases: Initially, vendors took a "buck shot" approach to creating use cases for service providers, with vendors and service providers having little idea what might actually be economically and/or technically viable. Now, we are seeing a strong concentration around WAN automation in general -- eliminating human touch points throughout the network to yield benefits in faster provisioning and delivery, reduced human error, and faster time to market and revenue for new services.

  • IP and optical integration: IP and optical integration has been discussed and debated for more than a decade with very limited deployment to date. However, SDN breathes new life into this architecture and adds a new (and significant) twist. IP and optical layers need not be physically integrated in the same chassis to yield real benefits, but rather logically integrated through software control and management. The missing element of control/management integration across layers has always been multi-vendor interoperability. This is where SDN comes in with the strong promise to finally unite these layers.

  • SDN for cable MSOs: While cable operators were not the very first adopters of SDN technology, over the past 18 months they have certainly become among its strongest proponents. Efforts from CableLabs, as well as individual cable operators, are pioneering SDN use cases across core, metro and DOCSIS access networks.

  • Security and SDN: Given that cyber security is front and center in mainstream news today, it is somewhat surprising how little discussion there has been (so far) regarding security in SDN and NFV networks. However, with use cases solidifying and some major technical hurdles cleared, we think that security will quickly move to the top of list in carrier SDN and NFV discussions during the next 12 to 18 months. It is clear that security has remained too low-key for too long, given the state of SDN today.

These topics and more will be discussed and debated when industry leaders across service providers and suppliers convene in Denver for Carrier SDN Networks on Tuesday, May 12. I hope to see there!

— Sterling Perrin, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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Umesh Jamwal
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Umesh Jamwal,
User Rank: Light Beer
5/8/2015 | 1:46:07 AM
Re: Ah yes, security....
As rightly said.....Peripheral security(FWS/IDS/IPS) are long time written their "obituary".

The ever changing threats are emanating from inside-out....Your internal machines are the source of malware, botnets and relinquishing control to East block/rogue countries " Robots" who have been remotely controlling and infecting your machines blatantly.

DDoS(Distributed Denial of Service), DNS Amplification attacks, Cache poisoning, signaling storm are the few examples infecting your network, users, subscribers etc.

Communication Service Providers/ Enterprise  has to implement opt-in/opt-out network security control features for its users to mitigate this vulnerability much before it strikes and disable,bring down entire network!
balsam
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balsam,
User Rank: Light Beer
5/8/2015 | 1:06:10 AM
Re: Ah yes, security....
SDN controller is not going to be a single system, but a geographically dispersed systems which has ability to propagate route updates. The controller in practice will not store the routes, but will be only a routing engine that can program the routes. Unlike physical appliance that control routing at the edge or core and if compromised would be difficult to react fast, Controllers can recover and restore last known good config.
mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/7/2015 | 3:01:53 PM
Re: Ah yes, security....
There's a clear reluctance among network operators to address security issues in anything resembling a public forum. But it's a mistake to leave the discussions to people who attend Black Hat events. Burying the collective head in the sand or some other hole isn't going to make this issue go away.
Sterling Perrin
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Sterling Perrin,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/7/2015 | 2:04:06 PM
Re: Ah yes, security....
Seven, I'm looking for some good discussion topics for this one and that has made the list: the vulnerability of a centralized controller. 
brooks7
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50%
brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/7/2015 | 1:00:31 PM
Re: Ah yes, security....
I think that security is much bigger than you think.

Imagine what happens when somebody hacks an SDN controller and wipes out the network's routing database.

This is much harder today because customers have no access.  But even indirect access allows someone into a carrier network.

 

seven

 
Sterling Perrin
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Sterling Perrin,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/7/2015 | 11:42:17 AM
Re: Ah yes, security....
Ray,

For the vendors, I think that most of them don't really have their products/strategies lined up so they aren't anxious to talk about this publicly. For the service providers, I think they aren't especially anxious either to talk publicly about potential vulnerabilities in their networks. But the topic can't be ignored forever - which is why bolted it into the agenda.

We've got a chief scientist from the DoD to shed some light on this topic - who better? And CenturyLink, which is supplying networks for the DoD. And Steve Vogelsang from Alcatel-Lucent is gracious enough to represent the supplier community on this panel. I'm hoping for and expecting some tough questions!

Sterling

 
sarahthomas1011
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50%
sarahthomas1011,
User Rank: Light Beer
5/7/2015 | 11:37:30 AM
Re: Ah yes, security....
I don't think you can replace perimeter security, but rather complement it with a distributed approach. Our man Ed, does in fact, have the answer, it would seem! He outlined a good approach to it at Security event last year: http://staging.new.lightreading.com/mobile/mobile-security/atandt-adds-virtual-layer-of-security/d/d-id/712402
Ray@LR
50%
50%
[email protected],
User Rank: Blogger
5/7/2015 | 11:19:14 AM
Ah yes, security....
Security is still the big topic liocked away in a box.. is that because no one realy knows what the imnplications are yet?

Perimeter security strategies are dead right, but what exactyly replaces that?

Does Ed Amoroso at AT&T have the answer?

Can I possibly ask any more questions???
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