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World’s first seamless cloud service launched

Publication Date : 10-09-2012


The world’s first globally seamless cloud service incorporating OpenFlow technology was launched last June by NTT Communications Corporation (NTT Com) – a sure sign of the Asia Pacific (Apac) region’s advanced role in embracing next-generation networking.

It was also a strong endorsement of OpenFlow, an industry standard that enables Software-Defined Networking (SDN). With SDN, networks operation is directed from a central controller across a vendor-agnostic network of low-cost, relatively dumb switches and routers – without the massive investment in distributed intelligence currently maintained by proprietary system vendors.

As NTT Communications’ senior vice president Yukio Ito explained: "OpenFlow already offers the features and benefits NTT Communications requires for its carrier-grade services. We are pleased with the industry offerings that enable our OpenFlow solution."

“Enterprise Cloud”, as NTT Com’s new infrastructure-as-a-service offering is called, uses OpenFlow to provide enterprises with easy control and management of their global cloud resources – optimising ICT investment and facilitating the global expansion of corporate operations.

This marks a significant development for business in the region. Without the flexibility of OpenFlow, multinationals’ ability to respond to rapid market changes has been held back by the time it takes to expand and upgrade their networks.

Enterprise Cloud, however, enables automated system changes via virtualised servers and networks, and a user-friendly customer portal. The service is initially provided via data centres in Japan and Hong Kong, followed by data centres in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Singapore in December and in Australia, Malaysia, and Thailand in March 2013.

What is OpenFlow?

OpenFlow is an industry-standard protocol that – together with an accessible API in an ordinary server – allows programming of a network’s control plane from a central controller. Instead of having to go into the physical network and adjust lots of boxes, general instructions can be sent out across the entire network, or subsections of the network, using the OpenFlow protocol. These instructions are introduced by software written to the aforementioned API, making the network into “a software-defined network".

In a normal router or switch the fast packet forwarding (data plane) and the high-level routing decisions (control plane) are in the same device. OpenFlow separates these two functions so that the data plane remains on the switch, while the high-level routing decisions move to a separate controller. The OpenFlow switch and controller communicate via the OpenFlow protocol.

Incorporating OpenFlow-enabled switches into an existing network can be done stage by stage as needed and according to budget, with the result that it becomes increasingly easy to roll out new routing and switching protocols across the network. These can not only optimise performance, but also address specific issues such as network flexibility to support virtual machine mobility, high-security networking, and next-generation IP-based mobile networks.

OpenFlow-enabled switches and controllers are already available from forward-looking vendors, and new arrivals are appearing ever faster. Speaking on behalf of Open Networking Foundation (ONF), Executive Director Dan Pitt, has applauded Cisco’s enthusiasm for Software-Defined Networking and its initial support for the OpenFlow standard, while Extreme Networks claims to be the first Ethernet switch vendor to integrate OpenFlow across its entire product portfolio.

NEC's OpenFlow-enabled controller won the "Best of Interop" Grand Prize at Interop Las Vegas 2012 and was also on show at Interop Tokyo. Two of these devices and sixteen NEC OpenFlow-enabled switches have been installed in the Kanazawa University Hospital, a medical research and educational institution in the Hokuriku area of northwestern Japan – providing a clear example of the benefits of SDN across a critical campus network.

Previously each clinical department had independently built and upgraded its network, making it hard for administrators to keep track of the overall structure. Furthermore, the addition of medical equipment also complicated network configuration and connectivity verification, which increased the burden and costs of network administration. The new system provides a Graphical User Interface, which enables administrators to update network configuration easily and conveniently, facilitating efficient management of operations and protecting against human error. With OpenFlow, virtualised networks can be easily built for each department (on a common, shared infrastructure) and new medical equipment can be flexibly added to the network.

The OpenFlow revolution began in the USA, with its immediate recognition by the world’s leading cloud providers. As well as eBay, NEC, and other giants, Google has upgraded its entire worldwide network interconnecting data centres to a one hundred per cent OpenFlow-based network. As Google’s senior vice president UrsHölzle explained: "OpenFlow has proven its reliability and functionality for this mission-critical application at Google".

But Interop Tokyo, one of the leading business technology events in Japan with over 130 thousand attendees this past June, provided even more proof of the APAC region’s interest in and commitment to our OpenFlow future. As Dan Pitt, Executive Director of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), put it: “I could not have been more thrilled with the reception of OpenFlow and SDN in Japan, and the momentum and demand that the technology is gaining”.

Nineteen current ONF member companies and a further eleven prospective member companies (totalling around 90 people) attended an ONF member meetup during the event.On the convention show floor, multiple member companies highlighted OpenFlow in standalone booths. This year’s Interop also featured an OpenFlow Showcase.

The showcase was buzzing with interest – senior industry players from enterprise and service provider sectors lined up for a programme of speakers and watched seven actual OpenFlow use cases in action. The showcase’s open stage area attracted over 200 people for the daily ONF briefing.

Other OpenFlow activities included an Interop panel session with Daisuke Saso of Brocade and Atsushi Iwata of NEC discussing the ONF’s work, and Dan Pitt filling in the bigger picture. The full audience provided excellent and intriguing Q&A at the close of the session.

Pitt also delivered a keynote address on the SDN movement, and how Silicon Valley and Japan are leading the new networking generation. During the session, Big Switch Networks CEO Guido Appenzeller – from the perspective of a successful startup – contributed part of the keynote and explained how the movement started, its evolution, and how it is spawning new companies. ONF board member Yukio Ito of NTT also contributed to the keynote and provided deep insight into the Japanese landscape and enterprise cloud services.

The future of networking

The ONF has witnessed an explosion of interest in software-defined networking since its launch in 2011. Critics who dismissed it as an ivory-tower exercise were quickly silenced by the rapid uptake and deployment of SDN – driven by OpenFlow giving the industry the confidence of a proven, vendor-agnostic global standard.

Silicon Valley, bellwether of so many important ICT trends, was first to get in on the action, but the Apac region has again shown its strong commitment to the future of networking. As Dan Pitt commented after Interop Tokyo 2012: "While we participated in activities such as press conferences and receptions, the membership activities and speaking sessions were definitely the peaks… It was evident that the industry is making a huge investment in OpenFlow and SDN. It was also readily apparent that there is a hunger for more – more knowledge, more understanding, and more products sooner!”


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