Cloud enablement

Verizon Sees a Cloud-SDN Connection

NEW ORLEANS -- International CTIA Wireless -- The drive into the cloud is also driving service providers into software-defined networking (SDN), Verizon Enterprise Solutions 's Stuart Elby told an Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) executive roundtable audience here today.

Elby, the VP of network architecture and technology and chief technologist for Verizon Digital Media Services, said SDN will let telecom service providers virtualize their network services in the same way that they virtualize computing resources in their data centers today for cloud offerings.

But Elby admits the connection between the two will take time to develop, and he's concerned that telecom companies might not move quickly enough to forestall the influx of a new round of competitors that are using SDN exclusively.

Verizon is actually early to the SDN party, as Elby is a founding member of the Open Networking Foundation , and Verizon has publicly endorsed OpenFlow, something not all carriers have done. (See Why Verizon Is Keen on OpenFlow.)

Elby sees cloud services as creating more interest in SDN across the industry.

"With SDN, we are running software on high-performance computers in real-time, so it makes sense we are putting it in our data centers," Elby said, in an interview following his presentation. "Cloud is essentially the hosting platform for SDN."

And with SDN running in the data center and cloud services running on virtualized servers as well, it makes sense to create a layer to link the two so network services can be dynamically provisioned along with cloud services.

"That way, if I am moving something from our Miami data center to our data center in Culpepper (Va.), that abstraction layer just handles it, and you don't have to separately provision the network resources and determine if you need another wavelength to support it," Elby says.

That layer doesn't currently exist. "SDN itself just barely exists," Elby admits. And service providers will face significant operational challenges in moving to SDN that players such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) didn't face when it moved its operations to SDN. (See Google Uses OpenFlow Massively.)

"Google operates everything as software developers, so for them, this is just more software," Elby says. "We are used to operating networks, and we all struggle finding operational acceptance" for SDN.

Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) is offering an interim step that Vish Nandlall, CTO and head of strategy, marketing, calls "a poor man's SDN."

By enabling an "approximation of the Open Stack software platform" to communicate through APIs with the operating and support systems run by its Telcordia subsidiary, Ericsson allows some orchestration of network resources on a dynamic basis, Nandlall says.

Nandlall agrees with Elby that the growing popularity of cloud will make SDN a bigger priority for telecom service providers.

"It's a very compelling value proposition" to create a means of hiding the complexity of dynamic network provisioning from enterprises using cloud services, he told the ATIS roundtable.

If cloud is the carrot for SDN, the stick is the very real possibility that a whole generation of new operators will spring up, using SDN -- as Google is doing -- and thus have the flexibility to deliver services that more closely match what enterprises are using. Elby sees that scenario as one reason he'd like Verizon to continue pressing forward on SDN as quickly as it can.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

cnwedit 12/5/2012 | 5:33:44 PM
re: Verizon Sees a Cloud-SDN Connection

I think Verizon's management sees what the future needs to be - but Stu acknowledges the challenges in getting there. Implementing SDN wouldn't help if network operators continue to behave as they have in the past.

As usual, the operational challenge is the biggest hurdle.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:33:44 PM
re: Verizon Sees a Cloud-SDN Connection

At Interop, a couple of people have told me carriers can benefit from SDN... if they're able to adjust their behavior. Basically they have to move faster, like software companies, or SDN won't be much help at all.

Verizon obviously fancies itself as one of those nimble software-like companies. Probably the right way to go, whether SDN specifically takes off or not.

Soupafly 12/5/2012 | 5:33:43 PM
re: Verizon Sees a Cloud-SDN Connection

The question sits squarely around capability.

Is the software & supporting systems actually ready and capable of supporting a network backbone today? Bear in mind, this is not a theoretical exercise. The network backbone that I refer to is carrying $m of traffic every day and has seconds downtime parameters - per month.

Google running a SDN core, is fine but they are not a verizon et al. They dont carry emergency services data, they have only 1 core customer the internal BU's and they can afford to put in place multiple layers of redundancy & get away with the occasional sustained outage. (Check the gmail headlines from last year, for examples.)

Talking about a "Vision" for SDN and how it may evolve and what you might need to be doing to improve organisationally and operationally is fine.

Implementing it and ensuring those changes map to customer & network SLA's in real-time, all the time - thats a jump from where we are - today.

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