SDN has come a long way in a very short time.
Last week at the SDN and OpenFlow APAC Congress, Michael Howard, founder and principal analyst at Infonetics revealed some very interesting information gathered from his latest research on SDN drawn from carriers representing more than 50% of worldwide carrier CapEx. 97% of those are planning to deploy SDN – SDN is a forgone conclusion. The overwhelming majority of those pursuing SDN are doing so as a way to generate new revenue. This was confirmed at the conference as we are seeing SDN beginning to happen in APAC. Here are some highlights.
Jon Vestal, VP of product architecture at Pacnet described Pacnet Enabled Network (PEN), an Ethernet service that went live earlier this year. Customers have a web portal to create services. Connectivity is created instantaneously, typically in 10 seconds or less. Customers can apply special service profiles – e.g., low latency, business class, best effort – per Jon (jokingly) “the route around Iceland”, etc. Bandwidth changes can be applied immediately or changes can be scheduled. The portal is intuitive and easy. Customers see a highly graphical interface with drag and drop semantics. As the customer adjusts a slider for bandwidth or picks service profiles, pricing is updated in real-time. This SDN magic is enabled by a programmable network with service-centric, northbound APIs fed through a portal used to control the network.
Gint Atkinson, VP of network strategy and architecture at KVH gave us a different perspective on dynamic networking. While bandwidth on demand (BoD) is definitely good for then customer, BoD requires a specific action taken with every bandwidth change. So, KVH has an option on their new etherXEN and Data Center Networking (DCNet) services that allows pay-as-you go. Users pay a fixed rate depending on their access ports – i.e., 1G, 10G or 100G, and then they pay incrementally for the bandwidth they use. This model lets a user build the network infrastructure the way they want and then grow into the bandwidth at their own pace. On the SDN side, KVH sees their network as an integrated pooled resource. KVH monitors utilization, optimizes traffic flows and builds the network out based on successes and revenue from its growing customer’s traffic. KVH’s SDN solution is Cyan’s Blue Planet SDN and NFV orchestration platform. Blue Planet gives KVH their global perspective and end-to-end network control.
While both Pacnet and KVH showcased innovative services made possible by SDN, Tom Bie, VP of technology and engineering at Tencent, brought an SDN use case unlike any I’d ever seen. For those not familiar, Tencent is an Internet company that provides web portals, gaming, messaging and e-commerce. Tencent had roughly $3 billion in revenue last quarter and has a market cap in excess of $150 billion – think somewhere between Yahoo! and Google. Imagine a network supporting 250 million simultaneous uses actively messaging. Then imagine the network growing at Internet speed with no end in sight. That sums up Tencent’s network, a mesh of interconnected mega data centers (100,000+ servers). How is it possible to build and manage a network of this scale? It’s built with SDN. Tom said routing is complicated, expensive and too heavy; routing performance at this scale would not be predictable. They chose SDN because it made sense. Their topology is well known. The architecture has servers interconnected in regular patterns. Using this knowledge, they developed a Simplified Routing Protocol (SRP), which is an ultra lightweight, stripped down version of BGP. They moved whatever processing they could up to the controller and run it at cloud scale. They leverage Openflow and whiteboxes extensively. During Q&A, someone asked Tom if Tencent is using SDN because of flexibility, service agility or possible OpEx savings. No, Tencent is using SDN because SDN is the only way could have built a network to this scale.
I heard a few people saying SDN has had a good start, but still has a long way to go. Maybe so, I think that’s like going back 2 or 3 years and saying cloud has made progress, but it’s got a long way to go – duh. We are seeing amazing innovation and beginning to see real deployments. Pacnet, KVH and Tencent are great proof points of companies using SDN deliver services and build networks that would otherwise be impossible. Great work guys! Cyan has a number of interesting SDN projects going on as well. The next year will be very interesting – more interesting than the last. Stay tuned.