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SDN in APAC: Scale. Speed.

Jul 2, 2014

Dan Pitt reflects on the notable conversations and presentations during the annual SDN & OpenFlow® APAC Congress.

ONF co-hosts the SDN & OpenFlow® APAC Congress with Layer123, as well as the World Congress in Germany every October. June’s APAC Congress in Hong Kong did bring a few surprises, and not the ones I was expecting. Of the 300+ registrants, probably ¾ of them were from Hong Kong, so this was largely a new audience for us. I’d also say there was a larger percentage of telecom service provider attendees than at any of the previous SDN & OpenFlow® congresses. I had extensive conversations with three of them: PCCW Global (Hong Kong-based ONF member), Pacnet (also from Hong Kong), and KVH (based in Japan).

Pacnet’s presentation was probably the most captivating of the conference. VP of Managed Services and Product Architecture Jon Vestal described Pacnet’s extensive pan-Pacific network of data centers and undersea cables connecting many East Asian countries as well as North America, all using OpenFlow® via the products of ONF member Vello Systems. Why did they choose an OpenFlow-based software-defined network? As Vestal put it, so they could build its features themselves, gain a shorter time to market, have automatic configuration, be able to experiment easily and fail fast as they trial new services, have the ability to classify data by application, and take a mere five months to roll it out into production.

Gint Anderson of KVH described the live services they offer by interconnecting their many data centers with SDN and carrier Ethernet, built using products from ONF member Cyan along with their own SDN controller and OpenStack.

Another eye-opening presentation was by Tom Bie of ONF member Tencent, which has over 400 million monthly average users on WeChat, over 600 million on QQcom, and over 800 million on QQ. Yikes! With dozens of large data centers and hundreds of smaller ones to accelerate content delivery, Tencent uses SDN for their data-center network, their cloud network, and their backbone network. Their driver for SDN is not to cut cost, but to scale their operations. I should say so.

Finally, Li Chen of ONF member China Mobile described how they are leveraging SDN and NFV, the combination of which he said was 1+1>2. SDN brings much greater bandwidth utilization, virtualization, and service chaining, and they use NFV to create virtual routers, virtual load balancers, and virtual firewalls. They combine OpenFlow® with OpenStack for their cloud data centers and urged us to work faster on northbound interfaces.

Marc Cohn, senior director of market development at Ciena and chair of the ONF Market Education Committee, did another masterful job orchestrating a full-day ONF workshop. One of his fascinating speakers was Guang Yang of Strategy Analytics, discussing what he called SDN and “de-telecom.” This is a strategy he sees being followed in China, primarily to enable them to deal with the enormous scale of their operations. “De-telecom” means to follow an IT philosophy: hardware becomes commodity, software carries the value, “carrier-grade” takes on a looser and less box-like notion, and SDN and NFV offer tools to translate user requirements into operational realities. He cited the importance of OpenFlow® for OAM, application performance monitoring, QoS, and software-defined EPC and RAN. He also mentioned the importance of security – in the controller, from the controller to the forwarding plane, and from the controller to the application plane. Also, Steve Hill of Current Analysis discussed SDN in the data center and said that without OpenFlow, there would be no SDN movement.

The APAC region is teeming with SDN innovation, and the SDN & OpenFlow® APAC Congress brought that point out in spades. I don’t know whether players in that region are doing more or just saying more, but I cannot point to any other region that appears to be moving as fast or going as far in deploying SDN as APAC.

– Dan Pitt, Executive Director