Assuring SDN for the real world
Although not always the most scintillating topic, in my experience service assurance has always been the foundation of any viable commercial network deployment. It’s where the world of technology meets the world of business — the contract that services will run smoothly. Assurance remains equally important for cloud-driven, on-demand network services based on SDN. Interestingly, it may also be the unforeseen element that truly enables the delivery of dynamic network services and the new commercial possibilities providers have been looking for.
As we move out of the trial stage for carrier SDN, assurance becomes a critical component to commercializing these networks. As part of our Network Services Platform (NSP), we have introduced assurance capabilities into Carrier SDN (read the press release). It enables service providers to ensure their SDN services are operational, requested constraints around latency and performance are always met, and the underlying network infrastructure is always running at peak efficiency.
Taming the unpredictable
What gets me even more excited is how assurance data also provides much of the visibility and intelligence required to make smart services placement decisions, and to place bandwidth where and when its needed. This ability to guide automated service provisioning and network optimization actions is critical in an unpredictable environment where network resources are consumed and released on demand, and traffic patterns can change in an instant.
How does this work? Technically speaking, the analytics, KPIs and correlations that drive assurance GUIs and visualizations are integrated with the SDN controller so that they can drive dynamic changes to the network — for instance, triggering actions at the network layer to avoid network congestion. This provides optimal flexibility so that flows can be redirected, new IP/optical paths established, and existing IP/optical paths can be resized dynamically – all driven by KPIs, analysis and correlations from both the IP and optical layers, and from both physical and virtual domains. This is often referred to as closed-loop, or automated assurance.
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We’ve already implemented these automated assurance techniques with customers. One of them is delivering dynamic VPN services. They use the assurance capabilities in our Carrier SDN platform, the NSP, to check link utilization and resize paths as necessary at the IP and/or optical layers, in this case, by adding an Ethernet link to a link aggregation group (LAG). On a commercial front, this is built into their service commitment to the customer.
In another example, China Telecom is leveraging network assurance by checking congestion on multiple links/paths to and from datacenters. When congestion occurs, they dynamically remap these flows to secondary links to ensure that link efficiency and customer satisfaction remains high. When the congestion event is over, they can choose to redirect the flows back to the primary links.
As SDN projects move from limited live trials to broad deployment and commercialization, providers are discovering that it takes more than just SDN automation and optimization to deliver dynamic multi-layer SDN services:
Integrating assurance into our NSP is a critical step in the journey to mass commercialization of SDN services. Without it, operators will not have the level of trust in these technologies to offer guaranteed performance levels to their customers. Assurance is the missing link in carrier SDN that allows service providers to offer truly dynamic, on-demand services for pay-as-you-grow enterprises and cloud operators.
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