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November 8, 2013
Eager to find out if software-defined networking (SDN) can deliver on its promises of quicker and easier provisioning, regional operator Pacnet is signing up customers for a trial of its new network-as-a-service (NaaS) offering.
The Hong Kong-based operator has deployed OpenFlow controller technology from Vello Systems and is running the trial service, called the Pacnet Enabled Network (PEN), for the next few months before a commercial launch. (See Vello Deployed In The Pacnet Enabled Network .)
Jim Fagan, president of Pacnet managed services, says the new platform allows the service provider to create "a virtualized APAC datacenter," with a virtual cross-connect between servers in disparate locations. The operator has datacenters in 10 locations across the region.
While the benefits of a pay-for-what-you-need pricing model are attractive, by far the biggest lure for customers is the huge reduction in circuit provisioning time -- from the traditional 15 to 20 days to just a few minutes.
That's a massive improvement to what is routinely a convoluted process. As Fagan explains, currently "the customer goes to the sales rep, who has to check the inventory. Then there's a pricing discussion, then it has to be manually provisioned, then the circuit is tested, and then the customer has to accept it." That can take nearly three weeks and the customer is locked into a one- or two-year fixed contract.
In the trial, customers can order their network services online through Pacnet's interface, or plug in their own API, and the connection is available almost instantly.
The speedy provisioning obviously gives much more flexibility to customers, who may only need additional bandwidth for a couple of hours for a backup or a migration.
But the NaaS platform is also an enabler for different commercial models. Instead of having to negotiate a price with the service provider, the customer can order the bandwidth they need for the time period they need -- it could be just for an hour -- with the latency they need at a standard price.
With their insistence on long-term contracts, telcos "must be one of the last parts of the IT industry to have put all the risk onto the customer," Fagan says. "We looked at the flexibility and agility in the IT and cloud world, and we know the network is going there eventually," Fagan says.
This flexibility means enterprises have a much greater ability to optimize data traffic performance. Currently, a CIO might be running multiple apps with different requirements that all run across the same big pipe: With the PEN, low-latency and high-performance apps such as video or financial trading programs can go into one pipe at one price, while less critical traffic such as email or regular web traffic could run on separate pipe.
The CIO can then get better analytics on each of these and measure against the performance required. "They're getting this whole level of analytics and diagnostics of performance that they just don't get today," said Fagan, who is part of a new management team appointed following a top-level shakeup. (See Pacnet Names New CEO and Pacnet Calls Time on Its CEO.)
He said the company decided six months ago to adopt SDN as a way of leveraging its fully-owned Asia/Pacific integrated subsea cable and datacenter infrastructure. The next step will be to add a West Coast US point of presence to Pacnet's subsea Unity cable.
Having just launched a joint venture to own and operate a datacenter in Chongqing, southwest China, Pacnet is also keen to take PEN into the mainland China market. (See Pacnet Awarded Datacenter License in China.)
At present the PEN platform, which enables point-to-point Layer 2 connections, is targeted at enterprises, but Pacnet has plans for "both down and upstack" Layer 1 and Layer 3 upgrades. "Once we get to that point, it's carrier-ready," says Fagan.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading
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