Google, Microsoft Challenge Service Providers

Google and Microsoft have mature clouds with sophisticated SDN, light-years ahead of service provider implementations.

Mitch Wagner, Executive Editor, Light Reading

March 7, 2014

4 Min Read
Google, Microsoft Challenge Service Providers

SANTA CLARA — Open Networking Summit (ONS) 2014 — While service providers take their first steps toward implementing SDN, Google and Microsoft have been at it for years. They are huge, they are mature, and they are both potential threats and potential customer windfalls for service providers.

The two companies gave back-to-back presentations at ONS this week in which they described how they're using virtual networking to drive their cloud services.

"Andromeda" is the internal code word for Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s virtualized network, said Google distinguished engineer Amin Vahdat. Google believes its WAN may be the largest software defined WAN in the world, and Google has worked on its infrastructure for more than 10 years.

Figure 1: Amin Vahdat Amin Vahdat

Andromeda is built based on Google's IT philosophy that scaling out beats scaling up, and a logically centralized hierarchical control plane with peer-to-peer data plane beats full centralization, Vahdat said.

The network needs to meet Google's requirements, including each customer needs an isolated virtual network, separate from others; the network needs to be resistant to DDoS attacks; it must map external services to internal namespaces; and support authentication, authorization, and billing. And the network needs to maintain efficiency while doing all that, Vahdat said.

SDN is required for Google to meet its business needs, to provide isolated, high-performance networks with end-to-end QoS and availability, Vahdat said. (See Defining SDN & NFV.)

Andromeda incorporates APIs for NFV, to get away from dedicated appliances for functions including load balancing, security, and access control.

One benefit Google has not seen from cloud computing is simplification, Vahdat said. "Cloud computing hasn't made operations easier -- yet. I believe it must and it will."

For Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s part, SDN is part of its Windows Azure platform, said Albert Greenberg, development director for the Windows Azure networking at Microsoft. SDN helps provide Microsoft's cloud offering with agility, he said.

Figure 2: Albert Greenberg Albert Greenberg

Azure is designed to allow companies to move their IT infrastructure to the public cloud for elastic scaling that's less expensive than an on-premises data center, and it runs Microsoft's major properties, including Office 365, OneDrive, Skype, Bing, and Xbox.

SDN is the solution that allows Microsoft to scale virtual networks across millions of servers, with flexibility, timely feature rollout, and the ability to debug problems. SDN also allows Azure to be a part of each customer's internal network, to make managing the cloud easier for Microsoft customers. "Azure is just another branch office of your enterprise, via VPN," Greenberg said.

Using SDN, Microsoft supports more than 50,000 virtual networks over 100,000 servers in a data center, Greenberg said.

"The key is how can we scale and be agile," Greenberg said. Microsoft’s “battle-tested” Azure server software will be offered for private clouds through Windows Server, he said.

Greenberg and a colleague demonstrated ExpressRoute, an automated configuration tool that allows customers to configure their own SDNs with a few minutes of clicking and typing in a browser.

Microsoft and Google made impressive demonstrations, and they appear to have a significant lead over service providers in deploying SDNs. We've seen this week how service providers are taking their first steps toward implementing SDN. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has a huge, ambitious plan and says it is a good way along in implementing, but concedes it also has a very long way to go. Major US wireless operators say they’ve yet to see cost benefits from SDN. Meanwhile, both Google and Microsoft have been at it with SDNs for many years.

Google and Microsoft are potential threats to service providers that are looking to become cloud providers. They will find Microsoft and Google have gotten there first.

On the other hand, special-purpose cloud providers like Google and Microsoft have to buy networking connectivity themselves in order to serve their customers. And that's a great opportunity for service providers to expand their business.

— 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].

Want to learn more about this topic? Check out the agenda for The Big Telecom Event (BTE), which will take place on June 17 and June 18 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. The event combines the educational power of interactive conference sessions devised and hosted by Heavy Reading's experienced industry analysts with multi-vendor interoperability and proof-of-concept networking and application showcases. For more on the event, the topics, and the stellar service provider speaker line-up, see Telecommunication Luminaries to Discuss the Hottest Industry Trends at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event in June.

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

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