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What Carriers Can Do with SDN*

May 9, 2012

For carriers, engaging in SDN provides the opportunity to cut operational and capital expenses, and enhance innovation. This allows providers to make the leap from bit mover to customer-experience provider. We’ve already discussed how and why this happens, but what are real life outcomes? As I’ve mentioned before, there are many carriers that are currently using and/or experimenting with SDN. Some of the short- and longer-term use cases for the technology include:

  • Service-aware routing: Rather than traditional metrics such as shortest path to route traffic, carriers can use SDN to implement service-aware routing, or traffic steering, to get packets where they need to go most efficiently. Service-aware routing can streamline delivery of long-lived flows, such as video, based on a subscriber’s profile, the congestion state of network, and other parameters.
  • Resource optimization: By providing global visibility and control, SDN management tools make it possible to provision a network dynamically. As a result, networks can be more elastic, which means carriers can maximize link utilization and other resources.
  • Power conservation: SDN can help carriers manage overall capacity so network platforms can be shut down at quiet times.
  • Simplified provisioning: Carriers that want to offer “high-touch” services today must configure many routers and “middle boxes.” With SDN, operators simply program flow rules that stream together the right access, security, QoS, and other policies along with the pipelines for each flow.
  • User experience optimization: Tightly integrated control and data planes result in a static network. Because SDN allows operators to modify the control plane dynamically, it is possible to deliver a consistent, high-quality user experience. A subscriber could switch between chatting on their smart phone, watching a video, and streaming music without their service declining. Gaming, videoconferencing, and other interactive traffic can be sent down a path engineered for optimal experience while non-subscribers’ traffic is routed normally.
  • Bandwidth on demand: Business customers would love the opportunity to turn bandwidth up and down as needed. SDN allows carriers to implement a time-sharing model for bandwidth. Customers get greater bandwidth flexibility and pay only for what they use, and carriers can multiplex links that otherwise would have been dedicated for private use.
  • Data center and other cloud services: SDN’s virtualization and traffic management capabilities can help carriers offer cloud services, including hybrid cloud computing for business customers and third parties and cloud services that tie into the hypervisor infrastructure in enterprise customers’ data centers.

Carriers have great expertise building highly available, scalable networks and providing service assurances. They can leverage these strengths as the network paradigm shifts to favor software. By providing network programmability, virtualization, and intelligent flow management, SDN lets carriers offer more value per bit at a lower cost per bit.

-Dan Pitt

*This is the final post of a 3-part blog series. Also find Part 1: Is SDN a Salvation for Carriers, and Part 2: Why SDN is Beneficial for Carriers for more details.

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Dan Pitt