DukeNet finds operational benefits, product capabilities with its SDN demonstration

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DukeNet, a regional fiber provider, is conducting a software defined networking (SDN) proof of concept demonstration in its lab that shows how the WAN could support cloud services carried out of the data centers its business customers use today.

This demo is a dress rehearsal for a customer trial the company expects to conduct in the first quarter of 2014.

David Herran, vice president of network architecture and technology planning, said in an interview with FierceTelecom that SDN could both serve as a platform for new services and improve the company's internal operations.

"We saw a technology shift to SDN as opportunistic, not just from the perspective from commercializing new products and services, but also operational efficiencies, automation, and lower cost capabilities within the network," he said.

Working with vendor partners Cyan and Accedian Networks, DukeNet's SDN demo focuses on how to dynamically spin up data center virtual machines (VMs) along with virtualized network resources for customers.

Cyan's Blue Planet SDN platform serves as the controller and proxies the computing and data center network demands to an OpenStack server in the cloud data center. Using element adapters, BluePlanet can turn up services on DukeNet's network, including Carrier Ethernet and optical edge devices from Accedian.

"Our goals for this year were really to get a good understanding in a lab environment and do some general trending and education with some of our executive management team so they can get a good understanding of what it may mean for the company going forward," Herran said. "We will then take what we learned and as we move into 2014 look to take the next steps with those testing capabilities we set up in our lab."

This lab trial included multi-vendor provisioning for DukeNet's Ethernet network interface devices (NIDs) and research into how the company could build a network as a service (NaaS)-based bandwidth on demand service for its customers.

The bandwidth on demand capability would enable an enterprise server to make requests for additional cloud data center virtual machines and associated network resources using OpenStack application program interfaces (APIs) and OpenFlow across the DukeNet network.

For the next phase of its SDN evaluation, DukeNet is looking at implementing other modifications including the introduction of an MPLS core and additional devices in the data center.

"Phase 1 was to keep it simple and get the use cases that we needed, and these demos are showing that it can be done at scale and changes the way we look at it," said Brian Sutterfield, director of technology and principal technologist at DukeNet.

In addition to the technical trials, DukeNet built a hospital customer simulation to illustrate how SDN works to its executive team. If a hospital needed an additional patient database, they could go to their portal and temporarily increase their bandwidth allocation to complete this task.

"A technician can look at his bandwidth and say it takes a long time to transfer this 2 terabyte file with only 10 Mbps," Sutterfield said. "Once he gets approval to change the bandwidth, he can fire it on up to 100 Mbps."

Although they see a lot of near-term operational benefits in terms of service provisioning and service assurance, Herran said that "there's still a lot of work to be done on productizing the capabilities that SDN can bring to the table."

Of course, the other question with all of this SDN work is how will it be applied within DukeNet's network when they become part of Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) next year. The cable MSO will complete its $600 million deal to acquire the company in Q1 2014.

DukeNet spokesman Ron Prolekia said that they "anticipate bringing much of what we're doing in the SDN space to TWC" and that "there appears to be a good deal of enthusiasm around this on both sides."

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