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Verizon has deployed a separate control plane to manage the Cisco and Juniper Networks routers it uses to deliver Ethernet and IP-based business services. The move could help Verizon improve the enterprise services over time.
The carrier started rolling out the software-defined networking (SDN) overlay early in the year and expected the work to continue until the end of next year. At that time, Verizon plans to manage all its existing service edge routers through centralized controller software running on an x86 server. Cisco and Juniper are helping to build the Verizon SDN infrastructure.
"This is the evolutionary strategy to build intelligence into all the existing stuff, because they're not going to throw it out overnight," said Brian Washburn, an analyst at Ovum, a research and consulting firm owned by London-based Informa.
Verizon, which announced the work this week, provides dedicated and switched Ethernet services for delivering IP and non-IP traffic between corporate offices, data centers and business sites. Capacities range from 1 Mbps to 10 Gbps.
Managing those services through a network overlay sitting on top of legacy hardware frees Verizon engineers from having to make configuration changes box by box whenever they update customer services.
"Even though enterprises can't buy that control layer for themselves today, all the indirect things -- efficiency, flexibility [and] reconfigurability -- will be important for them," Washburn said.
In time, Verizon SDN infrastructure could deliver services faster and bring more customization features to customers. For example, the carrier could eventually expand the availability of its Dynamic Network Manager, which lets companies use a web-based interface to change committed access rates and port speeds of a private IP service.
Today, Dynamic Network Manager is limited to long-haul networks, Washburn said. In the future, Verizon SDN technology could add the self-service feature to other products.
"[SDN] is the sort of thing that paves the way for those sorts of services in the future," Washburn said.
Impact of carrier SDN on switch-makers
Verizon is not the only carrier moving to software-controlled networks. Projects are underway, for example, at AT&T, CenturyLink and L3 Technologies.
AT&T, Verizon's largest competitor, is taking an aggressive approach toward vendor independence. The carrier developed an in-house network operating system for white box switches. AT&T has handed over the development of the NOS to the Linux Foundation, which has named it the Disaggregated Network Operating System (DANOS).
AT&T plans to use DANOS with an open hardware design within its wireless network to reduce the use of proprietary hardware. How much carriers will be able to do by themselves remains to be seen, but "vendors have been on notice for some time that there are alternatives," Washburn said.
As a result, vendors have been more flexible with prices and contract terms, he said. "We'll see where that future goes. Nothing is certain in a world where things can get abstracted and virtualized."