Optical/IP Networks

Why Verizon Is Keen on OpenFlow

Carriers and enterprises remain skeptical about OpenFlow and software-defined networking (SDN) because there are so few real-world deployments. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) wants to be the one to cannonball into the pool, which could provide a big boost for the technologies.

The carrier is announcing Tuesday that it's opening an innovation center for software-defined networking, which will combine labs from Verizon, HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC). Verizon is also bringing in one partner of its own: Adara Networks, a 10-year-old software company.

Verizon plans to demonstrate some SDN technologies this week, at the Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara, Calif.

The overarching goal of the innovation center will be the integration of networks and data-center infrastructure. Enterprises say not enough service providers are taking a comprehensive view on how the two will work together, says Stuart Elby, Verizon's vice president of network architecture.

This could be an important move for SDN and OpenFlow (which is one sliver of SDN), because the technologies are at that awkward stage where they've been written up by Wired but haven't yet proven their worth in the real world. And Verizon has shown itself to be a trailblazer for new technologies. Elby cites Long Term Evolution (LTE) as one. Verizon has also arguably led the discussions driving packet-optical transport systems (P-OTS) and the latest wave of reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexers (ROADMs).

Why bother?
Verizon first looked at SDN for its cost-saving potential, Elby says. "We're now getting to a point of maturity of the technology where we can start thinking about how it might open up some opportunities in the enterprise and business markets," he tells Light Reading.

One particular target: the connection between an enterprise's data center and an external cloud, such as one run by, say, Verizon Terremark (now owned by Verizon). That connection has become a source of annoyance on the enterprise end, Elby says.

"What makes it especially onerous is that if you're going to do it with big jobs and big data sets, you only need it when you're doing that job," he says. SDN would let the enterprise have a connection that could be shut off when not in use. It could be a transactional model -- a lease, essentially.

"That's a very simple case, but one we've heard from the enterprise customer set over and over again," Elby says -- noting that almost none of those discussions actually mention SDN. Enterprises haven't caught SDN fever (except in Japan, he says); Verizon just happens to see potential for SDN to create this in-demand feature.

Elby also describes a more complex case involving power savings in the cloud. By nature, virtual machines can be moved around a network; they're applications running on fractions of servers' CPU cores. What if those virtual machines could be physically grouped together, according to usage or time of day, so that an enterprise used a minimum number of cores, putting any unused server blades into stasis?

Distributed model
So far, Verizon's innovation centers -- those devoted to mobile apps -- have been physical places. The SDN center will have to be virtual, since each of the big partners will be devoting one lab to it.

Verizon's piece of the center will be a lab in Waltham, Mass., and HP's contribution is based in Plano, Texas. Elby didn't know, offhand, the location of Intel's lab.

Eventually, Elby hopes to enlist other network vendors to join -- although 11 of them have just formed an SDN center of their own, called the Open Networking Research Center (ONRC). (See SDN Research Center Opens.)

For more

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

Sign In