Capacity - - Contents -

SDN and global lo­ca­tions


An ever-ris­ing need to au­to­mate ser­vices is driv­ing the use of soft­ware-de­fined net­work­ing. NTT Com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­scribes how it is mov­ing to­wards a more end-to-end SDN ser­vice, aided by the sys­tem it de­vel­oped in-house over many years.

The rapid rise of the cloud and the In­ter­net of Things means that au­to­ma­tion is be­com­ing ever-more im­por­tant in the world of tele­coms and the in­ter­net. For car­ri­ers, this sig­ni­fies a need to be­come more ag­ile and flex­i­ble, some­thing that can be achieved by mak­ing more use of SDN through­out their net­works.

One global car­rier that is driv­ing se­ri­ously in this di­rec­tion is NTT Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, pro­pelled by the in-house SDN sys­tem that it started de­vel­op­ing in the late 1990s. Shawn Mor­ris, di­rec­tor of IP de­vel­op­ment for the com­pany’s global IP net­work, de­scribes how im­por­tant this tran­si­tion is. “Five to 10 years from now, I just don’t think you’ll be able to com­pete as a net­work provider un­less you are us­ing au­to­ma­tion to do your pro­vi­sion­ing,” he says.

Whereas in the past the fo­cus was on us­ing SDN to au­to­mate in­di­vid­ual func­tions and ser­vices in the net­work, NTT Com is now seek­ing to piece this all to­gether to cre­ate a more end-to-end sys­tem.

“We’re very much fo­cused on de­ploy­ing this tech­nol­ogy in the core of the net­work,” says Mor­ris, point­ing out that many in­dus­try dis­cus­sions on SDN have un­til now ei­ther been fo­cused on the data cen­tre or around the edge of the net­work rather than on fuller in­te­gra­tion. For NTT Com, he says, “it’s about con­fig­ur­ing ev­ery­thing in the net­work, not just ser­vice pro­vi­sion­ing.”

And the com­pany be­lieves that its long-term de­vel­op­ment of the tech­nol­ogy gives it a strong edge in this arena, putting SDN at the “heart” of its net­work. The key has been build­ing up the sys­tem in in­cre­men­tal steps from the ground up over a long pe­riod of time, mean­ing NTT Com is now in a po­si­tion to re­fine and tie the sep­a­rate el­e­ments into a more end-to-end sys­tem.

In-house sys­tem

Mor­ris ex­plains that when the com­pany started de­vel­op­ing the tech­nol­ogy, the only way to do it was by cre­at­ing an in-house sys­tem be­cause there was al­most no sup­port from net­work equip­ment ven­dors. “We’ve been talk­ing about these con­cepts now for a num­ber of years, but as far as ac­tu­ally putting out stuff into the field and get­ting soft­ware from ven­dors, it’s still a very young space,” he says.

Al­though this has changed sig­nif­i­cantly and there are now sys­tems out there, NTT Com’s de­vel­op­ment of its own in­fra­struc­ture still puts it in a strong po­si­tion, says Mor­ris, be­cause there is a need for each car­rier to piece these sys­tems to­gether to fit with their own in­di­vid­ual en­vi­ron­ments.

“I think if you’re go­ing to do this in any sig­nif­i­cant way as a large tele­coms provider, you’re not just go­ing to be able to buy an off-the-shelf so­lu­tion,” he says. “There are things you can go out and buy, but you’re also go­ing to have to have your own soft­ware to glue the pieces to­gether.”

Mor­ris says that NTT Com may add cer­tain pieces to its own SDN sys­tem from ven­dors in the fu­ture be­cause for cer­tain chal­lenges “other peo­ple may have bet­ter an­swers than we do”, but the com­pany’s his­tory will put it in a po­si­tion to slot those ef­fec­tively into its own in­fra­struc­ture.

In the past cou­ple of years, the com­pany has bol­stered its SDN sys­tem with tools to make it sim­pler and faster to pro­vi­sion in­fra­struc­ture be­tween its routers. This means that cus­tomers can now con­fig­ure cer­tain ser­vices us­ing a sin­gle web page that may in the past have used, say, a dozen pages.

NTT Com has also sought to add func­tions to sup­port mi­gra­tion plan­ning, help­ing it to move cus­tomer ports around more quickly and with fewer er­rors as it adds and re­moves equip­ment and shifts it be­tween fa­cil­i­ties, and tran­si­tions to tech­nolo­gies such as 100G.

For NTT Com, says Mor­ris, the main mes­sage is that the com­pany has done a lot of the “heavy lift­ing” for SDN. “Now how can we lever­age that even fur­ther and speed it up even more? To do any­thing at the scale we strive for, you just have to do it in an au­to­mated fash­ion.”

Shawn Mor­ris: NTT Com may add cer­tain pieces to its own SDN sys­tem from ven­dors in the fu­ture

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