Transport SDN

Vendors Vie for Programmable Transport Traction

We can expect to see a revolution in transport networking during the next couple of years. Early adopters, such as AT&T, Colt, Equinix, GÉANT, Telstra, Verizon and XO Communications, are already changing the way this market is going to work and -- by deploying programmable transport networks -- are enabling themselves to introduce a rich new range of products and services for their customers.

Programmable transport networks can be programmed to set up, alter, or tear down network connections dynamically and on demand. They can underpin a variety of new business models:

  • Underlying network resources can be dynamically allocated to specific cloud services so that those services can be delivered over managed networks with service level agreements (SLAs), and turned on and off when needed instead of being delivered via best-effort IP networks or dedicated pipes that take weeks to set up. Operators can broker SLA-backed access to third-party cloud resources, too.
  • Transport networks can be dynamically adjusted to support virtual network functions (VNFs) as they are created within and moved around networks (in the same way that IT resources are already spun up and turned off as and when needed).
  • Flexible retail bandwidth services can be offered to customers, including the ability for enterprises to use a self-service portal to set up and manage their own network connections between their own sites or to third-party cloud resources.
  • Instead of being forced to buy dedicated fat pipes to meet peak demands, customers can be offered bandwidth bursting (e.g., to support backup between geographically disparate data centers) or variable pricing that matches their (self-determined) network usage to network congestion. This applies to both enterprise customers and wholesale customers.
  • Transport networks can respond dynamically to cost and traffic optimization at all network levels, simultaneously.

Programmable transport will change the way operators run their own transport networks, fundamentally alter competitive dynamics in the wholesale telecom market, lead to a new convergence between networking and delivery of cloud resources (with telecom operators able to make a stronger play in the market) and lead to dramatic changes in the way business services are delivered and priced. Any operator not looking at implementing programmable transport risks rapid obsolescence.

All the major vendors of transport network infrastructure have a programmable network strategy, but they all have approached the market from slightly different perspectives and with slightly different strategies, influenced in a large part by their starting market position. Just because the networks are becoming programmable, though, does not mean that all vendors are using open software-defined networking (SDN) standards. It also does not mean that all vendors are equal in terms of their ability to support programmability across multiple network layers or across multiple vendors' equipment. Acquisitions are being used by players to bolster their market positions and early commercial deployments are being used to establish credibility.

Heavy Reading's latest report, "Programmable Transport: Use Cases Emerge as Capability Improves," takes a close look at the programmable transport strategies and capabilities of the largest of the optical and packet transport vendors. It reviews the products they offer, and contrasts their capabilities across a number of key parameters. It also reviews early deployments with network operators.

— Simon Sherrington, Analyst, Heavy Reading

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