Network administrators look to SDN with hope, concern

Enterprise and carrier executives see more control, faster provisioning in the still-developing software-defined networking technology

Some network operators say they need new tools to set up and manage connections in a virtualized world, even if that means adopting software-defined networking technology, which is still in its infancy.

Server and storage virtualization has freed computing and data from the confines of boxes in fixed locations, letting IT handle resources more efficiently. But networks still require manual configuration to keep those resources properly linked. SDN is designed to extend virtualization to networks, too.

That's an idea whose time has come, according to executives from two carriers and a large enterprise that are planning to test the Virtualized Services Platform, the SDN system introduced on Tuesday by Alcatel-Lucent venture Nuage Networks. They spoke on a panel at the company's launch event in Santa Clara, California.

The provisioning of new virtual machines at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center routinely kicks off lengthy discussions among IT staff about setting up the necessary connections and privileges for those VMs, said Bill Hanna, UPMD's vice president of technical services. With 3,500 VMs and growing, that's not a good thing to hear, he said.

"Today, the frustration is really with the virtualization folks, because the networks really do lag," Hanna said. The problem is the network. "The architecture ... does not lend itself to virtualization."

When the IT department moves VMs from one physical server to another, it changes the patterns of data traffic, sometimes dramatically, Hanna said. Network administrators want a view into those moves and a way to allocate the right amount of bandwidth to each VM wherever it is, he said.

Telus, a wireline carrier that serves consumers and businesses across Canada, can now automatically provision a broadband connection to a home but not to an enterprise data center, said Walter Miron, a director of technology strategy at Telus. The company hopes SDN can help bring that speed to its business service rollouts and is evaluating various SDN systems, Miron said.

The carrier operates many data centers itself and wants to be able to manage them in conjunction with the network, he said.

"Our philosophy is that the data center is part of the network, not adjacent to the network," Miron said.

French service provider SFR is going up against Amazon Web Services with a cloud computing service operated by Numergy, a venture it established with the French government and other partners. With traditional data center networks, the company won't be able to deliver the service levels that its enterprise customers will demand, said Pierre Barnabe, director general of SFR Business Team, the carrier's enterprise division.

Numergy also wants to offer seven different levels of security. "For that, we need SDN," Barnabe said.

Hanna said the fact that VSP is based on technology from Alcatel's Service Router Operating System, which UPMC already uses in about 100 routers. Still, the network executives know they are delving into largely uncharted territory.

"This is the biggest change in networking in years," said Hanna, who has been working in the field since the mid-1980s.

SDN won't fulfill all the promises that are being made for it today, but failures and shortcomings are a part of progress, SFR's Barnabe said in an interview after the panel discussion. He compared the various flavors of SDN to the different cellular technologies that are now converging in LTE.

"We need to test a lot of things," Barnabe said. "We need to push innovation."

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags alcatel-lucenttelecommunicationCarriersNetworking

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service

Most Popular Reviews

Follow Us

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Shopping.com

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Latest Jobs

Shopping.com

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?