Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Blueprint: NFV, SDN and Carrier Ethernet Make Progress

By Prayson Pate, Chief Technology Officer and SVP of R&D at Overture

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN) have been getting a lot of airplay recently, and everyone is coming out with their SDN or NFV stories.  With all the airplay on Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN), some critically important information is getting lost in the hype. NFV and SDN are not standalone technologies, and they are not sufficient for building commercial, revenue-generating services. What about the metro access network that is used to reach customers? It is Carrier Ethernet that has become the foundation on top of which all next generation services are being built, and which must team with SDN and NFV.  After all, you can’t virtualize pipes.
Each of these three technologies (NFV, SDN and Carrier Ethernet) is powerful in its own right.  What are the keys to their individual success, and how can they be combined?

Ethernet – Heart of the Access Network and the Data Center

Carrier Ethernet got its start as a cost-effective technology based on the native format for enterprise networks.  The Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) created a standard set of definitions and interfaces to facilitate the use of Ethernet, both as a service and as infrastructure.  These definitions were initially covered by tests specified in the MEF 9 and MEF 14 standards.  Later, this standardization was expanded into CE 2.0, with increased capabilities for management, multiple service classes and features that supported interconnect between service providers.

Ethernet is also the core of cloud/datacenter connectivity.  Modern data centers are built upon a framework of Ethernet switches, both physical and virtual, and almost all data center elements have Ethernet interfaces. Going forward, Ethernet promises continuing growth, both in speed and capabilities.

Carrier Ethernet has become the foundation for all future networking services in the cloud, whether at the edge of the network or in the data center.  While necessary, Carrier Ethernet is not sufficient for constructing modern services.  The evolution of services at the edge of the network will require harmony between Carrier Ethernet, SDN and NFV.

NFV – Bringing the Cloud to the Network

NFV is a concept introduced by a group of leading service providers.  The idea is to achieve the benefits of the modern datacenter and to bring them to the communications network: virtualization, low cost standardized hardware, ecosystems of software components coupled by open APIs, and rapid development and deployment of services, as shown in this figure.

Service providers have embraced NFV because it promises lower costs and higher revenues through service innovation.  In particular, NFV offers the following:

  • Service providers will be able to define and deploy new services without installing or replacing network elements.  Upgrades will take the form of installing new VMs, which is a much lower impact process than replacing physical appliances.
  • Service providers will be able to define new services independently from equipment providers.  They will be able to construct a new service from virtualized network functions provided by independent software vendors ISVs) or even create them internally.
  • Finally, service providers will be able to unite the connect, compute and storage components.  Doing so will expand the scope of the types of services that can be offered today.  For example, with NFV, it is possible to couple storage utilities such as Content Delivery Networks (CDN) with private networking and cloud in order to enable applications like online education.

SDN – Control and Automation

In contrast to the service provider push for NFV, SDN came out of the universities and found its way into the modern data center.  SDN provides improvements in how cloud components can be configured, connected and operated.  SDN brings network operators a model for modernizing how they control their networks, including a movement from closed proprietary systems.  As with NFV, open ecosystems of providers and components are an essential part of SDN.

Much of the early promotion of SDN has been on the use of the OpenFlow protocol used to program the forwarding behavior of the network in a standard and open way.  By deploying OpenFlow-enabled devices, a service provider could develop new services, and even new protocols, without upgrading the network.  This OpenFlow-centric view of SDN has been hampered by its limited support of equipment in the network.  Even so, it does hold great promise for the future. In addition, alternatives such as NETCONF and RESTFUL interfaces may also be paths through which to gain the benefits of SDN.

Combining NFV, SDN and Ethernet

NFV, SDN and Ethernet are all powerful components in their own right.  This figure shows how they are being combined.

  • Ethernet and SDN currently co-exist in the data center, especially inside virtual switches (vSwitches).  Today’s vSwitches are controllable by OpenFlow to provide interconnection of virtual machines.
  • SDN and NFV currently intersect in the Central Office (CO), which is the next generation data center.  As such, it is a ripe target for early deployments of NFV with SDN being used for control.
  • NFV and Carrier Ethernet can be combined to provide some interesting applications, such as Virtual Service Edge (VSE).  VSE is the replacement of dedicated customer-located appliances (e.g. routers and firewalls) with software-based applications running on a standard compute platform and connected via Carrier Ethernet to the wide area network.

What Changes will be Required in Carrier Ethernet?

Combining all three technologies will get us to the sweet spot for future innovation.  However, doing so will require continued evolution of Carrier Ethernet, which has been constantly growing and changing to meet the evolving needs of its users. What are the next changes that are needed?

Better Coupling with SDN

As described above, vSwitches currently provide a virtual way to connect cloud components under the control of OpenFlow.  However, OpenFlow provides a degree of arbitrary flow identification that is often not needed, and which is not compatible with much of the deployed base of equipment.  For example, OpenFlow can define a flow based on parameters such as MAC addresses and QoS markings.  A simpler forwarding model and standard focused on Carrier Ethernet virtual connections would facilitate the use of SDN principles with existing infrastructure. This leads to the next area for growth.

Simpler Standardized Interfaces

Because OpenFlow can be used to control arbitrary flows, its control protocol must be equally flexible.  What is needed is a simpler model for an API and data structure that matches current capabilities.  The MEF has an opportunity to drive innovation and consistency related to controlling Carrier Ethernet infrastructure.  In particular, the definition of a schema to match the current CE 2.0 capabilities would be very useful.

Definition of New Services to Support Cloud

Despite its power, Carrier Ethernet has some limitations, especially with respect to VLAN and MAC scaling.  These limits have driven work on new protocols for network virtualization such as VxLAN and NVGRE.  These technologies allow the construction of overlay networks to decouple the VLANs needed by virtual machines from those used to provide the underlying connections.  There is still disagreement, however, about exactly what new capabilities are needed, causing divergence in how network virtualization is being implemented.

Carrier Class Orchestration

In the data center, orchestration refers to automated provisioning, coordination and management of physical and virtual resources.  In the data center, resources are homogeneous and fungible, and we can assume fat pipes for connection.  This is not the case for application of SDN and NFV to the access network using Carrier Ethernet.  We need orchestration that can take into account such parameters as cost and availability of resources, location and latency, and available bandwidth.  In addition, elasticity and multi-tenancy are key attributes of a carrier-class orchestrator.


By combining the powerful technologies of NFV, SDN and Carrier Ethernet, service providers will be able to reach their goals of modernizing their networks, cutting costs and, most importantly, accelerating the creation and deployment of lucrative new services.  Continued innovation is required for Carrier Ethernet to be able to support this evolution.  Adding new capabilities will enable efficient expansion of new services beyond the data center into the Carrier Ethernet-powered metro service edge.

About the Author

Prayson Pate is Chief Technology Officer and SVP of R&D at Overture, where he is also a co-founder. Prayson is a technology leader and evangelist with a proven track record leading teams and delivering products. Since 1983 he has been building Carrier Ethernet and telecom products for service providers and network operators around the world - both as an individual developer and as a leader of development teams. Prayson spends much of his time driving adoption of Overture's new Ensemble Open Service Architecture, which includes aspects of automation, virtualization, SDN and NFV. He has a BSEE from Duke, an MSECE from NC State and is the holder of nine US patents.

About Overture

Overture is the preferred provider of Carrier Ethernet solutions for the metro service edge. By leveraging Overture’s Carrier Ethernet expertise and its new Ensemble Open Service
Architecture™ for software-defined services, network operators and service providers worldwide are maximizing operational efficiencies and introducing new revenue-generating services on a scale never before possible. Overture is headquartered in Research Triangle Park, NC, with sales offices around the globe. For more information, visit http://www.overturenetworks.com

Huawei Posts SDN IPv6 in Google Play and Apple App Stores

Huawei released a Software-defined Networking (SDN) App, SDN IPv6, in both Google Play and Apple App Store.

Making use of the northbound interface of the SDN controller, SNC, and the innovative flow table technology, Huawei's SDN IPv6 solution flexibly generates and loads various transition technologies on simple SDN forwarding devices to streamline the deployment of IPv6 transition and to reduce complexity in shifting between different transition technologies. The publically downloadable SDN IPv6 App fully demonstrates the DevOps features of this solution in that it is easy to generate, load and shift the transition technologies through open API interface, which provides a good platform for operators to flexibly adjust and select appropriate transition technologies during its network evolution.

The SDN Enabled IPv6 Transition App provides a guide for IPv6 transition technologies.The app-controller interface has to provide a data model for describing v4-v6 transtition technologies. The controller-switch interface is pure OF (including the IP-in-IP extensions).

Huawei said there are many challenges in IPv6 deployment, including long transition times, accommodating various transition technologies, and implementing complex transition devices, etc.  SDN addresses the challenges of IPv6 migration by simplifying the network architecture so that it is dynamic, manageable, cost-effective, and adaptable, with the advantage of simple network devices and the flexible implementation of network technology.

Huawei noted that its SDN IPv6 solution has provided Internet services for several top-level standards development organization (SDO) meetings, e.g., ETSI NFV ISG, SDN Leadership and the Open Networking Summit.

Mr. Zha Jun, President of Huawei's Fixed Network Business Unit, said: "Huawei's SDN IPv6 App is the industry's first carrier SDN infrastructure-based app to realize the fast provisioning of telco services, fully demonstrating the service agility features of ICT technologies. Huawei is committed to helping carriers achieve business success with flexible and open network solutions."


Ericsson Launches Software-based Virtualized Encoding Solution

Ericsson introduced a software-based Virtualized Encoding solution designed to remove the complexity of TV Anywhere video processing.

Ericsson Virtualized Encoding supports all input-types (compressed off-air or mezzanine and uncompressed), all output-types (traditional linear broadcast on cable, IPTV, DTH satellite and DTT, Multiscreen ABR delivery over IP) and all codecs (MPEG-2, MPEG-4 AVC and HEVC). It can be implemented on processing platforms containing a combination of dedicated programmable hardware such as Ericsson's video processing chip, in customer premises and software or GPU-based servers on premise, or potentially deployed in the cloud.

Ericsson said it developed the new solution to be completely task and service-oriented, intelligently allocating resources and simplifying the process of selecting the right encoding method and platform based on the operator's priorities for deployment speed, video quality and output.

Dr. Giles Wilson, Head of TV Compression, Ericsson says: "In today's TV Anywhere world there is no 'one-size fits all' solution to video processing and a variety of compression platforms are being used to balance investment, architecture and performance. With the launch of Ericsson Virtualized Encoding we are unifying all these processing platforms under one intelligent software abstraction layer to ensure best-in-class performance, simplification of processes, reduced operational burden and far greater agility in deploying services. Our customers are especially welcoming our approach in removing the burden of deploying HEVC compression, and the inevitable platform upgrades as performance demands increase rapidly."


Harris Broadcast Splits into Imagine Comm and GatesAir

Harris Broadcast, which is owned by The Gores Group, will split into two companies: Imagine Communications and GatesAir at its inaugural MediaDay held at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Imagine Communications will be headquartered in Dallas, with offices in Denver, Toronto, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv and Beijing. The company's five decades of media software and networking innovation has secured more than 3,000 customers spanning 185 countries, with more than 3 million products deployed that support over half of the world's video channels, along with a rich portfolio of patents.

Imagine Communications is also introducing Software Defined Workflows (SDW), a capability enabled by the company's MultiService SDN architecture that improves the way video is managed through broadcast facilities by allowing the entire workflow to be software defined, bringing all media into the IP layer and separating the media content components from control. Additionally, significant investments in TV Everywhere will leverage Imagine Communications MediaCentral and Multiservice SDN frameworks, further reducing the infrastructure required to allow for the multiple formats of the evolving multiscreen world – from the largest Ultra High Definition screens down to the smallest screens of smart phones and wearable devices. By optimizing the highest quality video stream for delivery over the variety of bandwidth users consume, Imagine Communications' TV Everywhere solutions will enable all networks to dynamically adapt to the amount of available bandwidth.

GatesAir will be headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, with its state-of-art manufacturing, supply chain and fulfillment center in Quincy, Illinois. GatesAir has been pioneering over-the-air TV and radio transmission innovation for nearly 100 years.

"With vibrant new identities and focus, Imagine Communications and GatesAir are well-positioned to serve our industry and customers," said Charlie Vogt, CEO of Imagine Communications and GatesAir. "Our vision, product direction and strategy further align Imagine Communications and GatesAir with today's transformational trends, the networks of the future and our customers and partners. We have created two laser-focused companies that are innovating across different ends of the technology spectrum. Imagine Communications will lead the media and entertainment markets to a future defined by IP, software, the cloud, and TV Everywhere, with an architecture vision for delivering and monetizing multiscreen content. Likewise, GatesAir will continue to lead the next-generation TV and Radio over-the-air market, with a focus on providing wireless innovations that reduce power consumption and carbon footprint, while leveraging the growth in digital radio and TV transmission across the globe."


In January 2014, Harris Broadcast completed its previously announced acquisition of Imagine Communications, a supplier of digital video solutions for content providers and system operators, for an undisclosed sum.

Harris Broadcast said the acquisition enhances its solutions portfolio as its builds the first true "MultiService SDN", integrating sales, scheduling, automation, playout and delivery throughout both linear and non-linear content distribution networks. It also brings advanced transcoding technology utilizing cutting edge software breakthroughs that run in high density, low power commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) and blade-server environments, consistent with Harris Broadcast’s vision of software-centric, virtualized operations.

Imagine Communications supplies TV Everywhere transcoding that utilizes software running in a virtualized blade server environment.  The solution combines video processing, Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) transcoding and statistical multiplexing technology to provide the bandwidth efficiency and density needed to meet the demand for TV Everywhere services.

  • In Dec. 2012, Harris agreed to sell its Broadcast Communications business to an affiliate of The Gores Group $225 million.

Level 3 Plans Pacific Cable for Colombia

Level 3 Communications is planning a new undersea cable connecting the Pacific coast of Colombia to its international undersea network.  The project will reduce Colombia reliance on international fiber connectivity via its Caribbean coast.

The terrestrial segment of the cable in Colombia is being constructed in conjunction with EMCALI

Empresas Municipales de Cali, a state-owned utilities services company, will construct the terrestrial portion linking the coast to the city of Cali, Colombia.

"Level 3 has been continually enhancing its network and services in Colombia to offer optimal solutions to our customers. This new Pacific subsea cable, in tandem with management from an experienced carrier such as EMCALI, should result in meaningful benefits for the country," said Hector Alonso, regional president of Latin America for Level 3.


Ruckus Launches Dual-band, Three-stream 802.11ac Wi-Fi AP

Ruckus Wireless introduced the first dual-band, three-stream indoor Wi-Fi product specifically designed for the new 802.11ac standard.

The Ruckus ZoneFlex R700 AP integrates the company's BeamFlex+ adaptive antenna array technology to extend the range, reliability and speed of indoor Wi-Fi services, giving enterprises and service providers the ability to offer Gigabit-class Wi-Fi performance. It can operate as a standalone access point (AP) or part of a centrally managed wireless LAN. It incorporates six custom smart antenna arrays—one for each band and spatial stream.

By using per-packet adaptive antenna control, polarization diversity, and active channel selection techniques, Ruckus said it is able to increase the useful uplink and downlink range, which is also boosted by the more efficient 256-QAM introduced by the 802.11ac standard.


Alcatel-Lucent Builds New Office Deskphones

The Enterprise division of Alcatel-Lucent debuted a new range of Premium DeskPhones featuring wideband audio through the handset or hands-free mode. It offers secured capabilities such as IPV6 ready and embedded software encryption.

The company said it believes a majority of employees still rely on solid, trusted tools like a deskphone.