CSPs the third wave in HP SDN

Complexity in data centre networking has become axiomatic, as pressures imposed by the need to keep up with virtualization and cloud, Big Data volume and variety, mobility and multiple devices have turned familiar ground for network designers, operators and administrators. But imagine this challenge in the distributed networking environments of the carrier, communications service provider or very large enterprise. Encompassing multiple layers and multiple channels (physical or logical) — and various combinations of the above — service provider networks serve as the backbone connecting many (ISP) customer WANs in wholesale agreements, or several branch and single purpose networks according to internal arrangements in the case of the enterprise. While network convergence — the delivery of voice, video and data via digital protocols through the same communications pipe — promises the communications service provider (CSP) greater flexibility in service delivery, sheer demand for bandwidth, new types of data traffic and the need for standards in evolving communications modes belies the simplicity that convergence offers. And while provider networks must become agile to support the rapidly changing needs of multiple clients, in many cases, network infrastructure has evolved slowly over time through the layer of different systems onto legacy networks in response to new customer demand — as opposed to lock in step with other server-based cloud computing infrastructure.

In traditional data centres, the solution to increased network complexity has been virtualization and the automation of manual network configuration tasks. But, how is it possible to achieve this kind of simplicity in the snarled tangle that has taken shape in many distributed environments? Increasingly, IT network equipment vendors are stepping up with standardized, software-based solutions aimed at rapid network provisioning, unification of multiple data centre deployments and the virtualization of functions that are specific to the CSP or distributed enterprise. At HP, these solutions are called Distributed Cloud Networking (DCN), a solution announced at the mid-October SDN and OpenFlow World Congress, and Network Function Virtualization (NFV), a solution aimed at optimizing network resources and increasing network agility for the CSP through dynamic, service-driven configuration.

Jacob Rapp, product marketing leader, HP networking
Jacob Rapp, product marketing leader, HP networking

According to Jacob Rapp, product marketing leader, HP networking, DCN represents an expansion of the company’s network virtualization portfolio, which (so far) consists of three SDN use cases. The first is creation of virtual overlay networks for cloud environments that automatically connect unique virtual networks as the user spins up vms, which can be managed with HP’s VAN SDN Controller, or with a solution that federates HP’s VAN with VMware’s NSX SDN controller to "combine the best of virtual overlay [VMware controlling virtual networks] and the best of physical underlay [HP controlling switches]." In addition, HP launched Virtual Cloud Networking last year, which ties an HP Helion distribution of OpenStack to the HP VAN Controller to support customers looking to deploy an open version of network virtualization.

A third pillar is DCN, which is targeted at the service provider segment or Rapp explained, "very large organizations that act like service providers in that they have large distributed environments and want a network virtualization solution that integrates well with their WAN infrastructure and across multi-data centre environments." DCN includes a new (this year) Virtualized Service Controller, a new Virtualized Service Directory and new virtualized switching and routing functionality so that tie in to the WAN can be integrated with technologies like MPLS all the way to the virtual switch level — "creating those overlays," Rapp explained, "that large CSPs are expecting in their virtual networking."

The DCN solution includes:

· HP Virtualized Service Directory, which refines service design and integrates with customer service policies to enable seamless management of users, compute and network resources.

· HP Distributed Services Controller, which serves as a robust control plane of the entire data center network. Controller federation provides network administrators with centralized control of their network, no matter how many data centers are being managed, to enable scalability, resiliency and consistency of network implementation.

· HP Distributed Virtual Routing and Switching, based on Open vSwitch, which serves as a virtual endpoint for network services and allow changes in the compute environment to be immediately detected, and triggers the right network connectivity to meet the needs of applications.

HP lists new capabilities in the DCN as follows:

· Automation of complex network configuration in real-time without human intervention through programmatic control delivered through HP’s Cloud System application management.

· IT self-service, with enables customers to move from building clouds to simplified usability without human intervention.

· Integration of data centre networks for enhanced consistency of user experience across multiple data centers.

· Rapid provisioning of DevOps test environments, which in turn can reduce deployment time, resulting in direct business impact.

A second piece of news at the SDN and OpenFlow World Congress involved efforts on the part of HP’s NFV team to incorporate DCN within their open NFV solution. According to Rapp, "network virtualization fundamentally helps enable that journey to NFV so that customers can have the automation and open architecture that from a networking standpoint, really accelerates the CPS’ journey towards NFV." Defined by Rapp as "abstracting out the functions of the network, such as the firewall or routing, and distributing these across an x86-based architecture," also allows different functions to be delivered through a set of x86 servers that can be virtualized to grow and shrink on demand, rather than through a "large monolithic [and by implication, costly] platform."

New NFV capabilities include:

· Development of reliable, dynamic and open NFV architecture for smooth carrier transition to a fully automated multi-data center environment.

· Workload mobility distributes the applications closer to where the end user is located, resulting in optimization of user experience, specifically, a boost in speed and responsiveness.

Each of the HP SDN solutions outlined above has been designed with a specific customer segment in mind. In the case of DCN, HP has built its solution around the needs of the CSP or large distributed enterprise that is connecting WANs or MPLS services. If this seems a bit of bringing coals to Newcastle since the large, sophisticated service provider is likely to have proprietary expertise and systems as part of its core competency, Rapp argued the opposite. In his view, the CSP customer benefits from having "a fully supported solution from a vendor that manages functions in a standardized way… so it’s taking automated processes that they [CSPs] may have been trying to do today with Python scripts, or whatever scripts may be running in the background, and creating something that is a standard way of doing — MPLS over GRE [tunnels] or VX LAN [virtual extensible LAN], for example — and making this a fully supported solution. This allows the CSP to focus on their core business rather than have to continue to write scripts to maintain the infrastructure," he added. And because HP’s solution is software-based, "it doesn’t create need for a big forklift of their [hardware] infrastructure," Rapp noted, in order to integrate legacy systems and multiple WAN channels. In addition, HP has tried to create additional ease in DCN implementation by leveraging tools that the customer might be using today, RESTFUL or other APIs that are easy to integrate with: the virtual switch that is part of this offering, for example, is based on Open vSwitch, the open source distributed virtual multilayer switch. Another benefit of the software approach is the potential to do a quick pilot or easy proof-of-concept before full rollout, allowing the customer to take advantage of ‘fail fast’ approaches that may ultimately encourage faster time to delivery.

According to HP, DCN’s highly automated management "not only provides a true return on investment in networking equipment, it also lowers the total cost of ownership to deliver an enhanced user experience and increased productivity."  To offer some sense of the scale of potential savings, HP provided information from an HP/Nuage Networks (division of Alcatel Lucent) banking customer case study, claiming $10 million in annual operations savings as a result of DCN implementation, in addition to annual revenue boosts of $4-8 million from increased agility and faster time to market achieved with this solution. The case considered five functions: architecting application deployment, assignment of IP addresses, LAN configuration, WAN configuration and security configuration across 600 production apps and 400 test/dev apps and tools to calculate significant ROI, including a 52% reduction in network ops staff years.

The HP/Nuage banking collaboration produced CAPEX and OPEX optimization, improved utilization through migration across all bank data centres, and enhanced revenue opportunity for its customer. Although results will certainly vary depending on the implementation, the size of the deployment and the parameters taken into account, these kinds of returns are setting an ROI and productivity bar that will be important to match in what has been characterized — with a CAGR of 51% for SDN and 66% for NFV (2013, 2018, 2023), reaching USD $20 billion in SDN revenues and close to USD $ 30 billion in NFV by 2023 for the CSP market alone — as an attractive, and rapid growth industry for the vendor community.

Like all HP’s network virtualization solutions, DCN is implemented with HP Technology Services Data Center support, and has been incorporated into the HP Trusted Network Transformation service. It is now available worldwide with a starting price of $65,585 for a single instance and will also be offered for enhanced virtual networking as part of the previously announced HP OpenNFV program.