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Verizon, Partners Push OpenFlow, SDN

The telecommunications giant Verizon has joined with other top technology partners to collaborate on a software-defined networking (SDN) demonstration that is based on the OpenFlow protocol. The news of the collaboration was made at an Open Networking Summit being held this week in Silicon Valley.

Verizon will work together with Intel, HP and a company called Adara Networks to create a project to show how SDN can work for a network, particularly one the size and scale of Verizon’s. In addition to offering local business, residential and mobile phone service, Verizon is also a cloud service provider. Verizon’s top concerns in exploring SDN are to improve "service velocity and service flexibility," says Prodip Sen, director of network architecture at Verizon Network and Technology.

"We need the ability to be able to introduce services faster and to be able to modify these services as the need arises," Sen says. "Our core networks are built on the traditional networking paradigm, and it’s not so easy to change how traffic gets routed. With all of these new applications coming online, the traffic patterns are no longer what we used to think they are."

Adara Networks brings the SDN network intelligence to the project. While it has been around for about 10 years, managing the computer networks of U.S. Department of Defense and other government agencies, the company just recently expanded into commercial markets.

SDN works by uncoupling from the physical hardware-based network elements the software that directs the traffic, similar to the way server and storage virtualization works. In SDN, software-based intelligence augments network intelligence in routers and switches. Eric Johnson, chairman and CEO of Adara, calls the solution a "network overlay. An overlay means while we have the ability to work using physical interfaces, we can literally create tunnels--an overlay, like a VPN--only this VPN is very special. A VPN would be a secure transmission overlay, while this is an SDN overlay so that the infrastructure does not have to be modified."

Johnson says the beauty of Adara-delivered SDN is that a customer would not have to rip and replace its networking gear. The new software overlay would provide the SDN capabilities to deliver network services now in demand as networks carry more traffic.

The demonstration lab will include HP BL460 G7 blades running quad-core Intel Xeon 5600 series processors, HP Networking switches and the HP CloudSystem Matrix, which is HP’s infrastructure-as-a-service platform. HP in February offered a free OpenFlow download for customers to install on their HP switches to enable SDN.

The demonstration at the Open Networking Summit should give more traction to the development of OpenFlow and SDN, says Bob Laliberte, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategies Group: "It will be great to see demonstrations with commercially available products because with any new technology, users are always looking for validation. Who else is doing this? How are they using it? What benefits does it provide?"

Other players in the growing but nascent SDN market include Big Switch Networks and Nicira.

The Open Networking Summit is hosted by the Open Network Foundation, a group of academics, vendors and, more importantly, enterprise IT professionals who run data centers and have to make decisions about investing in OpenFlow and SDN.

Prior to the opening of the summit, NEC announced the establishment of the Open Networking Research Center, to be co-developed by the company along with Stanford University and the University of California-Berkeley. Much of the original research on OpenFlow was conducted at the two San Francisco Bay Area schools. Eleven other companies have joined in support of the center, including Cisco, HP, Huawei and Juniper--all rivals in the network equipment space--as well as Google, Ericsson, Texas Instruments and VMware.