While AT&T has gotten a lot of press for its announced plans to use Software Defined Networking (SDN) to revamp its core network, another large global carrier has been quietly deploying SDN/OpenFlow for almost two years and soon plans to launch Network Function Virtualization (NFV) into its WAN.
NTT Communications (NTT-Com) is using an “SDN overlay” to connect 12 of its cloud data centers (including one’s in China and Germany scheduled for launch this year) located on three different continents. This summer, the global network operator plans to deploy NFV in their WAN, based on virtualization technology from their Virtela acquisition last year.
ONS Presentation and Interview:
At a March 4, 2013 Open Network Summit (ONS) plenary session, Yukio Ito*, Senior Vice President for Service Infrastructure at NTT Communications described NTT-Com’s use of SDN to reduce management complexity, capex, and opex, while reducing time to market for new customers and services.
The SDN overlay inter-connects the data centers used in NTT-Com’s “Enterprise Cloud.”
Started in June 2012, it was the first private cloud in the world to adopt virtualized network technology. Enterprise Cloud became available on a global basis in February 2013. In July 2013, NTT-Com launched the world’s first SDN-based cloud migration service- On-premises Connection. The service facilitates smooth, flexible transitions to the cloud by connecting customer on-premises systems with NTT Com’s Enterprise Cloud via an IP-MPLS VPN. Changes in the interconnected cloud data centers create changes in NTT-Com’s IP-MPLS VPN (which connects NTT-Com’s enterprise customers to cloud resident data centers).
NTT-Com’s Enterprise Cloud currently uses SDN/OpenFlow within and between 10 cloud resident data centers in in 8 countries, and will launch two additional locations (Germany and China) within 2014. The company’s worldwide infrastructure now reaches 196 countries/regions.
NTT-Com chose SDN for faster network provisioning and configuration than manual/semi-automated proprietary systems provided. “In our enterprise cloud, we eliminated cost structures and human error due to manual processes,” Ito-san said. The OpenFlow protocol has proved useful in helping customers configure VPNs, according to Mr. Ito. “It might just be a small part of the whole network (5 to 10%), but it is an important step in making our network more efficient,” he added.
SDN technology enables NTT-Com’s customers to make changes promptly and flexibly, such as adjusting bandwidth to transfer large data in off-peak hours. On-demand use helps to minimize the cost of cloud migration because payment for the service, including gateway equipment, is on a per-day basis.
Automated tools are another benefit made possible by SDN and can be leveraged by both NTT- Com and its customers. One example is the ability to let a customer running a data backup storage service to crank up its bandwidth then throttle back down when the backup is complete. In that case, the higher bandwidth is no longer needed. Furthermore, SDN also allows customers to retain their existing IP addresses when migrating from their own data centers to NTT-Com’s clouds.
In addition to faster provisioning/reconfiguration, CAPEX and OPEX savings, NTT-Com’s SDN deployment allows the carrier to enable the carrier to partner with multiple vendors for networking, avoid redundant deployment, simplify system cooperation, and shorten time-to-market, Ito-san said. NTT-Com is currently using SDN Controllers (with OpenFlow and BGP protocols) and Data Forwarding (AKA Packet Forwarding) equipment made by NEC Corp.
The global carrier plans to use SDN throughout its WAN. A new SDN Controller platform is under study with an open API. “The SDN Controller will look over the entire network, including packet transport and optical networks. It will orchestrate end-to-end connectivity.” Ito-san said. The SDN-WAN migration will involve several steps, including interconnection with various other networks and equipment that are purpose built to deliver specific services (e.g. CDN, VNO/MVNO, VoIP, VPN, public Internet, etc).
NFV Deployment Planned:
NTT Com is further enhancing its network and cloud services with SDN related technology, such as NFV and overlay networks. In the very near future, the company is looking to deploy NFV to improve network efficiency and utilization. This will be through technology from Virtela, which was acquired in October 2013.
The acquisition of cloud-based network services provider Virtela has enhanced NTT’s portfolio of cloud services and expanded coverage to 196 countries. The carrier plans to add Virtela’s NFV technology to its cloud-based network services this summer to enhance its virtualization capabilities.
“Many of our customers and partners request total ICT solutions. Leveraging NTT Com’s broad service portfolio together with Virtela’s asset-light networking, we will now be able to offer more choices and a single source for all their cloud computing, data networking, security and voice service requirements,” said Virtela President Ron Haigh. “Together, our advanced global infrastructure enables rapid innovation and value for more customers around the world while strengthening our leadership in cloud-based networking services.”
High value added network functions can be effectively realized with NFV, according to Ito-san, especially for network appliances. Ito-san wrote in an email to this author:
“In the case of NFV, telecom companies such as BT, France Telecom/Orange, Telefonica, etc. are thinking about deploying SDN on their networks combined with NFV. They have an interesting evolution of computer network technologies. In their cloud data centers, they have common x86-based hardware. And meanwhile, they have dedicated hardware special-function networking devices using similar technologies that cost more to maintain and are not uniform. I agree with the purpose of an NFV initiative that helps transform those special-function systems to run on common x86-based hardware. In the carrier markets, the giants need some kind of differentiation. I feel that they can create their own advantage by adding virtualized network functions. Combined with their existing transport, core router infrastructure and multiple data center locations, they can use NFV to create an advantage against competitors.”
NTT’s ONS Demo’s -Booth # 403:
NTT-Com demonstrated three SDN-like technologies at its ONS booth, which I visited:
- A Multiple southbound interface control Platform and Portal system or AMPP, a configurable system architecture that accommodates both OpenFlow switches and command line interface (CLI)-based network devices;
- Lagopus Switch, a scalable, high-performance and elastic software-based OpenFlow switch that leverages multi-core CPUs and network I/O to achieve 10Gbps level-flow processing; and
- The Versatile OpenFlow ValiDator or VOLT, a first of a kind system that can validate flow entries and analyze network failures in OpenFlow environments. I found such a simulation tool to be very worthwhile for network operators deploying SDN/Open Flow. An AT&T representative involved in that company’s SDN migration strategy also spoke highly of this tool.
NEC, NTT, NTT Com, Fujitsu, Hitachi develop SDN technologies under the ‘Open Innovation Over Network Platforms’ (O3 Project):
During his ONS keynote, Mr. Ito described the mission of the O3 Project as “integrated design, operations and management.” The O3 Project is the world’s first R&D project that seeks to make a variety of wide area network (WAN) elements compatible with SDN, including platforms for comprehensively integrating and managing multiple varieties of WAN infrastructure and applications. The project aims to achieve wide area SDN that will enable telecommunications carriers to reduce the time to design, construct and change networks by approximately 90% when compared to conventional methods. This will enable service providers to dramatically reduce the time needed to establish and withdraw services. In the future, enterprises will be able to enjoy services by simply installing the specialized application for services, such as a big data application, 8K HD video broadcasting and global enterprise intranet, and at the same time, an optimum network for the services will be provided promptly.
The O3 Project was launched in June 2013, based on research consigned by the Japan Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications’ Research and Development of Network Virtualization Technology, and has been promoted jointly by the five companies. The five partners said the project defined unified expressions of network information and built a database for handling them, allowing network resources in lower layers such as optical networks to be handled at upper layers such as packet transport networks. This enables the provision of software that allows operation management and control of different types of networks based on common items. These technologies aim to enable telecoms operators to provide virtual networks that combine optical, packet, wireless and other features.
NTT-Com, NEC Corporation and IIGA Co. have jointly established the Okinawa Open Laboratory to develop SDN and cloud computing technologies. The laboratory, which opened in May 2013, has invited engineers from private companies and academic organizations in Japan and other countries to work at the facility on the development of SDN and cloud-computing technologies and verification for commercial use. Study results will be distributed widely to the public. Meanwhile, Ito-san invited all ONS attendees to visit that lab if they travel to Japan. That was a very gracious gesture, indeed!
Read more about this research partnership here:
Summary and Conclusion:
“NTT-Com is already providing SDN/Openflow-based services, but that is not where our efforts will end. We will continue to work on our development of an ideal SDN architecture and OpenFlow/SDN controller to offer unique and differentiated services with quick delivery. Examples of these services include: cloud migration, cloud-network automatic interconnection, virtualized network overlay function, NFV, and SDN applying to WAN,” said Mr. Ito. “Moreover, leveraging our position as a leader in SDN, NTT Com aims to spread the benefits of the technology through many communities,” he added.
Addendum: Arcstar Universal One
NTT-Com this month is planning to launch its Arcstar Universal One Virtual Option service, which uses SDN virtual technology to create and control overlay networks via existing corporate networks or the Internet. Arcstar Universal One initially will be available in 21 countries including the U.S., Japan, Singapore, the U.K., Hong Kong, Germany, and Australia. The number of countries served will eventually expand to 30. NTT-Com says it is the first company to offer such a service.
Arcstar Universal One Virtual Option clients can create flexible, secure, low-cost, on-demand networks simply by installing an app on a PC, smart phone or similar device, or by using an adapter. Integrated management and operation of newly created virtual networks will be possible using the NTT-Com Business Portal, which greatly reduces the time to add or change network configurations. Studies from NTT-Com show clients can expect to reduce costs by up to 60% and shorten the configuration period by up 80% compared to the conventional establishment.
*Yukio Ito is a board member of the Open Networking Foundation and Senior Vice President of Service Infrastructure at NTT Communications Corporation (NTT-Com) in Tokyo, a subsidiary of NTT, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world.