Pacnet Offers Transport SDN Services

Mitch Wagner
News Analysis
Mitch Wagner, Executive Editor, Light Reading
3/10/2015



What do you do after you've deployed a 10 Gbit/s transoceanic network that business customers can configure in minutes using SDN tools? Take it up to 100 Gbit/s.

The Pacnet Enabled Network (PEN), launched about 13 months ago across 18 data centers in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the US, has, until now, provided a Layer 2 overlay network to enable its enterprise, carrier and content delivery customers to self-provision bandwidth from 1 Mbit/s to 10 Gbit/s. (See Pacnet Turns On SDN in APAC, US.)

On Wednesday in Hong Kong, Pacnet extended that functionality to Layer 1 using Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN)'s Open Transport Switch (OTS), allowing customers to self-provision 40 Gbit/s and 100 Gbit/s connections on demand.

The self-service Pacnet portal allows customers to provision the network in time increments as small as one hour, setting their own service level agreements and pricing, and configuring what happens when the contract ends -- auto-renewal vs. self-termination.

"They can set up a 10 Gbit/s flow, only have it for one hour, and set it up in 30 seconds," says Jim Fagan, Pacnet president of managed services.

The Infinera OTS system extends the SDN capability to the core network. "From a technology perspective, it's a big deal," says Fagan.

It's also a big deal from a market perspective: With its PEN capabilities, Pacnet is giving its customers greater control over their services with far greater flexibility than in the past and the ability to act quickly to meet near-term business needs. That's good for the customers, good for Pacnet and it should be good too for Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS), the Australian carrier with global ambitions that is in the process of acquiring Pacnet. (See Telstra Snaps Up Pacnet for $697M.)

The new capabilities also extend customers' network visibility into the infrastructure layer, allowing them to check the status of ports and circuits on the Pacnet side of the hardware as well as the customer's own, says Jon Vestal, VP of product architecture for Pacnet.

Long-term customers, with 10- to 15-year contracts, can move their connections around as needed, perhaps starting with a Singapore-Hong Kong circuit now and switching to a Korea-Japan circuit in a few years, Vestal says.

Shorter-term, one-year leaseholders benefit from being able to apportion bandwidth as needed, Fagan says. Instead of specifically buying a fixed amount of bandwidth connecting fixed points -- 100 Gbit/s from Hong Kong to Singapore, for example -- they can buy 100 Gbit/s of capacity anywhere on the network and provision it where it's needed. This allows customers to use bandwidth more efficiently as they they don't have to pay for the peak amount of bandwidth they might need on any one link. "They don't have to have all that excess slack in the network," Fagan says.

Although Pacnet is using Infinera's boxes for its optical transport layer, PEN is vendor-agnostic. Infinera opened its APIs and Pacnet wrote software to the Infinera optical layer, allowing Pacnet to use its own orchestration, controller, billing, ticketing and other back-end software with a translation layer that connects to the optical layer, Vestal says.

"We can very quickly drop in new networking vendors," says Vestal. "Yes, we have to write to their APIs, but we do it once, and we have a translation layer that sits on top of that. That means in the north-facing interfaces to the customer, be it the GUI or API, we don't have to make changes to that layer."

Fagan adds, "From the customer perspective, they almost don't know what's on the back end. They don't really need to have any awareness what's on the back end of the server."

Pacnet uses OpenFlow for SDN management and 'white box' switches for the sub-10 Gbit/s network, with Infinera's gear providing the optical core. Pacnet prefers OpenFlow, but it doesn't scale too well, Vestal says. Still, OpenFlow allows Pacnet to pick and choose among multiple vendors, and white box switches are significantly less expensive.

"It's a huge cost difference," Fagan says.


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Additional features added to PEN in recent months include:

  • Approval chain for purchases, so customers' network engineers can configure a network, and then pass the configuration on to administrators or finance for approval.
  • Multicurrency billing.
  • NFV virtual appliances, to allow customers to spin up virtual firewalls and routers on the network and provide self-service gateways.
  • Cloud endpoints, allowing customers to connect directly to the Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) Web Services cloud over the PEN network. Pacnet is working with other major cloud operators on providing similar connectivity.

Pacnet's customers are primarily large enterprises, as well as carriers, OTT and CDN companies.

Telstra struck a deal in December to acquire Pacnet for $697 million, bolstering Telstra's physical network and adding SDN capabilities. Fagan says that deal is still on track to complete in mid-2015, pending regulatory and Pacnet financier approval. (See Telstra to Buy Pacnet.)

— 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 [email protected]

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