SDN and the network of tomorrow today!

Enterprise IT infrastructure is rapidly giving way to virtualized alternatives. Storage, servers, desktops, are all available in one way or another as IT-as-a-Service. Now it’s happening with the wide area network (WAN) and software defined networking (SDN) is a key enabler to delivering networks as a service.

A report by Frost & Sullivan explores how SDN and a complementary technology – Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) – will be instrumental in communications services providers (CSPs)meeting the networking needs of enterprises.

The key issue, of course, is that CSPs are shifting away from decades of reliance on proprietary hardware switches and controllers that managed and routed data and voice traffic. In that legacy environment, network modifications and upgrades required the so-called “truck rolls” and “fork lifts” to physically install or retrofit networking gear.

“IP-based network services such as MPLS VPN and Ethernet support the movement of large amounts of enterprise wide area networking (WAN) traffic in a secure and reliable manner,” Roopashree Honnachari, industry director, Business Communication Services & Cloud Computing Services with Frost & Sullivan, explains in the report. “However, the underlying static or monolithic nature of these network services—any changes to network in terms of bandwidth changes can take weeks or even months to provision—is a deterrent to the fast-changing bandwidth requirements of corporate WAN.”

Software-driven networks

Instead of being hardware-driven, the modern network will be software-driven, opening up many new capabilities and dramatically redefining the concept of enterprise wide area networks.

As Honnachari explains, “SDN is a technology architecture that decouples the network control from the forwarding functions of the physical infrastructure. In SDN architecture, a controller determines how packets get forwarded by networking elements, separating the control and data planes within switches and routers. SDN technology does for network services what virtual machines (VM) do for servers—it enables physical network resources to be pooled together and consumed on-demand.”

On-demand, pay-as-you-go model

The on-demand model is something that enterprises are increasingly familiar with. “The on-demand procurement option and the pay-as-you-go billing model associated with cloud services are influencing the buying behavior of enterprises for network connectivity services,” Honnachari writes. “Enterprise need for on-demand network services, driven by the rapid adoption of cloud and virtualization technologies in the IT department, is a key trend driving SDN initiatives among network service providers.”

AT&T already supported many SDN capabilities and independently defined, proprietary mechanisms that fall under the SDN architectural framework. As revealed in the AT&T Domain 2.0 Vision white paper published in 2013, SDN will be used to “create virtual network capabilities within an infrastructure fabric, remove middle boxes, and provide customer control of private LAN capabilities.” SDN can be used “to stitch native, overlay and WAN networks together on demand.”

As Frost & Sullivan notes, SDN automates the network provisioning steps and processes. Where in the past a service call would be needed to physically change or install network equipment, SDN makes it possible to centrally implement network changes through software. This is very similar to how data centers manage their virtual servers.

Provisioning in a matter of minutes

“The programmability of the network to provision network resources (and manage performance and security aspects, centrally) in a matter of minutes—as opposed to the lengthy manual chore involved in making changes to a traditionally-defined physical network—is of immense value in an increasingly cloud-centric world,” Honnachari says

“For example, if an enterprise needs to increase bandwidth on its network that connects the on-prem data center to a hosted cloud data center, for weekly backups, it could provision bandwidth on-demand for the duration required,” he adds. “The ability to provision bandwidth on-demand, and pay for just the amount of bandwidth consumed, not only reduces network costs, but also offers immense network procurement flexibility to enterprise users.”

Furthermore, Honnachari explains, “SDN architecture enables service providers to provision universal ports, which allow enterprise customers to take advantage of the market demand for private network connectivity to cloud. These universal ports enable enterprises to provision the WAN service of their choice—Ethernet or VPN—in real-time, and pay for just the capacity they use.”

Network on Demand

AT&T Network on Demand is the first of its kind software-defined networking solution in the U.S. With an online self-service portal, business customers can easily add or change services, scale bandwidth to meet changing needs and manage their network all in near real time.

Recently, we announced a Universal Customer Premise Equipment (uCPE) device that provides the hardware element needed to realize the benefits of SDN. Functions that in the past required dedicated hardware, such as firewalls and intrusion detection, can be virtualized and multiple VNFs can run on a single, industry-standard server.

In conjunction with AT&T VPN service, SDN will drive delivery of virtualized network functions (VNFs) to the uCPE. As we noted in a previous post, functions that in the past required dedicated hardware, such as firewalls and intrusion detection, can now be virtualized and multiple VNFs can run on a single uCPE. With the ability to easily deploy, mix, and match the functions as needed in a centralized and streamlined fashion, deployment times can be dramatically improved. When a VNF is no longer needed, the server can be repurposed for other VNFs.

Network on Demand also provides new capabilities to AT&T Switched Ethernet Service customers, allowing them to quickly provision and scale their networks. “The Network on Demand offering takes into consideration the needs of existing AT&T switched Ethernet customers by providing customers the option to create hybrid networks,” the Frost & Sullivan report points out.

In addition, organizations can rapidly provision their managed Internet through a direct self-service approach with AT&T Managed Internet Service on Demand. This is a first of its kind, intelligent, intuitive, self-service SDN-enabled technology that can help businesses utilize the Internet with even greater efficiency, speed, reliability and control.

A new world of networking

These new capabilities illustrate the movement toward next-generation networking. Like other IT infrastructure, the functions of complex pieces of hardware are emulated with software that runs on standard, off-the-shelf hardware. You can add capacity faster and push out upgrades at the speed of the Internet.

This is going to be a new world for most enterprises. Honnachari offers advice on key considerations for decision-makers looking to transition to this new way of networking. To read more, download the Frost & Sullivan report here.

For more information on SDN go to att.com/NFV