27 March 2015 9:12:27 AM
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As the OFC conference continues, today provided a unique opportunity to hear from some of the industry’s leaders in a slightly less formal setting where business and technology issues come together to create market value.
Of course I’m referring to the Service Provider Symposium, held on the 300,000 square foot exhibit floor at OFC. The symposium is open to both regular conference attendees and anyone with an Exhibit Pass Plus. The location makes it convenient to both attend the sessions and tour the exhibit hall, while the atmosphere encourages audience participation and questions.
The panel kicked off with a keynote from a senior vice president at NTT, who gave the carrier’s perspective on SDN/NFV deployment. NTT has been using these technologies in a commercial production network since June 2012, and feels they will form a key part of the emerging “carrier cloud”, which is their latest SDN-based architecture. Not only can SDN reduce the cost of operations and maintenance for carrier infrastructure, development of “transport SDN” is well under way. The extension of SDN to all layers of the carrier network represents a significant opportunity for this technology.
This was followed by a panel discussion on the value and cost of SDN involving presentations from BTI, Equinex, and the New York State Center for Cloud Computing & Analytics at Marist College (www.marist.edu ). Topics included the economics of virtualization, enabling multi-layer SDN management for cloud exchange services, and multi-layer optimization for SDN backbone networks. Some participants pointed out that the networking industry is actually lagging a decade or more behind the server and software industry in terms of virtualization, and SDN is clearly a concept whose time has come. Large cloud test beds were discussed, which have demonstrated SDN control of multiple vendor switches, routers, security devices, and WDM interfaces on a 100 km metropolitan area network. The focus of this work is increasingly on software, particularly for the APIs associated with KVM, OpenStack, and VMWare interfaces for cloud data centers. While virtual overlay networks still exist, they have not seen the widespread adoption that some industry participants projected over a year ago. Instead, network overlays are being deployed more cautiously as part of a larger overall network strategy, such as provisioning function graphs (service chains) for security and other network appliances. The promise of application aware networking remains a topic of active research, with new software frameworks being proposed and tested. At the same time, new business models seek to integrate SDN offerings with legacy OSS/BSS systems at telecom and cloud service providers. One promising model takes advantage of the low startup cost and flexibility of SDN deployment by providing a low entry level subscription fee for SDN services, supplemented by a tiered model which promises that subscribers only pay for the service after they start making revenue. Additional comments represented the viewpoint of the International Society of Service Industry Professionals (ISSIP), which included a discussion on the need for network service professionals to cultivate basic programming skills as part of the transition to SDN.
An additional panel on packet optical networks followed, featuring presentations from Google, Sprint, and Verizon. This panel drew a distinction between classic packet optical transport and next generation solutions. The classic approach involved carrier Ethernet with an integrated WDN interface, mostly based on optical transceivers such as the 10G XFP or the tunable SFP+ form factors. Next generation packet optical solutions use a “packet box” (a router or switch) with integrated coherent 100G dense WDM optics. Other potential features for newer designs include wavelength-tunable optical transponders and multi-layer, converged software for management and control. This leads to a discussion of exactly what packet-optical convergence means for network service providers. The differences in hardware suggest an industry shakeout of equipment providers in the near future, and significant business concerns for those vendors unable to adapt to this new technology. Client acceptance also remains an issue, as service providers ponder whether their clients will accept the tradeoff of a single vendor solution in exchange for lower pricing and more flexible provisioning features. Some service providers insist that the best overall approach requires a vendor neutral solution based on open standards, which are evolving but more slowly than some would like. Although the latest designs promise greater simplicity, better resiliency through SDN control, and lower cost, many practical deployment issues remain.
The trade show floor was a busy place, featuring educational programs presented at two theatres on the show floor. These included presentations from the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF), which is currently driving a host of interesting projects. Product showcases included a lengthy discussion on passive optical networks, including applications such as 4G/5G transport and the transformation to Information Communication Technologies (ICT) within the industry. Compact hardware solutions for 200G and 400G were discussed, along with approaches to overcoming testing and validation obstacles before deployment. Next generation optical fibers were previewed featuring larger effective areas and lower attenuation for so-called 3U networks (ultra high speed, ultra large capacity, and ultra long haul).
The OFC trade floor seemed to have something for everyone today. What was your favorite part of the show floor? Let me know on Twitter #OFC, and perhaps I’ll share the best answers in a future blog.