- Interest in SDN is growing in the APAC market, but its impact is first being felt among the carrier community.
- SDN offers the internal efficiency needed for APAC carriers to provide more dynamic and flexible network options to their customers, but it is their data center customers which get the benefits.
I just returned from a long trip to Hong Kong and Singapore, where I chaired some sessions of the 2014 SDN & OpenFlow Asia-Pacific Congress and had the opportunity to speak at the ONF Workshop that ran the day before the Congress. Aside from the truly remarkable hospitality I enjoyed in both cities, the thing I found most interesting was the preponderance of carrier companies in attendance at these events. This makes a ton of sense, considering the somewhat different nature of the APAC market and how the network infrastructure is changing for them.
The vast majority of my SDN research time is spent in the context of enterprise data centers based in the good old USA, a land where major cities are not separated by massive bodies of water, so cross-data center connectivity is a completely different animal in the States. However, discussions I had with various carriers which attended the show and with my APAC colleague, Hugh Ujhazy, illustrated that carriers in that part of the world are in the process of redefining their offerings and fundamentally changing the way they do business. In a market once dominated by voice communications, APAC carriers are looking to find new and innovative ways to market their bandwidth for data center customers, and SDN is turning out to be one of the best ways to accomplish that.
Perhaps one of the most mature examples I saw of this came during a briefing I had with Pacnet, a major carrier in Asia, which has spent the last 14 months developing PEN: the Pacnet Enabled Network. In early 2013, Jim Fagan, Pacnet’s President of Managed Services, and his team made a forward-thinking proposal to Pacnet’s board, arguing that developing a new, SDN-based network environment was a key to the future. As a result, its customers can now use the brand new, GUI-based PEN technology to dynamically specify a WAN link, configure its bandwidth and QoS requirements, and have it available in minutes – a process that traditionally takes weeks to accomplish. Instead of being locked into a long-term contract based on fixed bandwidth, its customers can purchase links on a flexible hourly, weekly, or monthly basis and dial up or down the link’s bandwidth based on their current requirements. This kind of flexibility is pretty remarkable in the carrier world and it is still too early to say how it will go over with its customers, but I think that the benefits are pretty obvious and would show up in the form of immediate cost reductions for Pacnet customers.
I believe this degree of flexibility is only possible through the automation provided by SDN, and rather than focusing on the internal benefits offered by SDN, I think Pacnet was smart to focus on the benefits the technology provides to its customers. The value of SDN seems to be more immediately evident in environments that have multi-tenancy challenges, but the benefits of automation, granular control, error reduction, and flexibility translate well into every IT context. Just think, if a carrier network can be this nimble and flexible, shouldn’t your internal network be too?