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Taking SDN from concept to reality

Ericsson has long played a leading role in the development of the Software Defined Networks (SDN) concept and has lately expanded it to cover the whole telecom domain, calling it Service Provider SDN. The company is now cooperating with several telecom operators to turn their SDN ideas into reality.

The telecom world is moving to 4G IP networks with higher scalability, superior performance, smartness and simplicity. Up to now, the industry in general has had a too narrow view on SDN, looking at it mainly from a switching and routing perspective and applying it to data centers, says Mallik Tatipamula, Head of Packet Technology Research at Ericsson.

“We’ve taken a new approach, putting the service providers at the center and addressing their concerns, which are ultimately about optimization, monetization and providing a good end-user experience,” Tatipamula says.

Service Provider SDN builds on four fundamental principles, Tatipamula explains: decoupling of forwarding from the control plane; orchestrating the services/applications across the entire network; providing APIs on top of the network for service velocity; and virtualization (slicing the physical network into virtual networks to support multiple services/applications).

Service Provider SDN means adding control to all domains of the telecom network. The cloud is also an integrated part of the Service Provider SDN, which links the control of the cloud to the control of the network. To summarize, Tatipamula says Service Provider SDN is basically about integrated network control, orchestrated network and cloud management, and service exposure.

The benefits of SDN for the operators are many, says Tatipamula, highlighting flexibility, scalability, and a better support for applications/services on top of the network. For end users, there is a lot to gain as well, such as quicker access to wanted services and better performance in general.

Erik Ekudden, Ericsson’s Head of Technology Strategy, says Ericsson has been deeply involved in the SDN space from its onset. Ericsson was among the first to establish a SDN research project with Stanford University, back in 2008-2009, and one of the founders of the Open Networking Research Center. It has also actively taken part in the SDN standardization through Open Networking Foundation.

The company is now working closely with a number of leading operators worldwide on pre-commercial trials involving Ericsson equipment such as the Smart Services Router and Blade Server.

“Now we’re set on taking SDN from research to reality and have taken the lead in that race,” Ekudden says. “It’s still early days, but we see a growing interest from operators in Service Provider SDN. We are working on implementing a number of use cases together with them.”

The basic ideas of SDN, with its separation of control and forwarding architecture, are nothing new to Ericsson, Ekudden explains. “We have already gone through this journey in the circuit-switched world with the MSC, as well as in the IP world with IMS. So for us, it’s only natural to apply this architecture to all-IP networks, which is what we do with SDN.”

Ekudden also stresses the importance of Ericsson’s broad telecom competence in the SDN work.

“At Ericsson, we have all the required domain competence, covering components, products and services, everything from radio, to transport, to IP,” he says. “This gives us a unique position in our industry.

“We’re not only talking about how SDN affects a router, which some of our competitors do, but how it impacts the whole network and how to make it optimal for the operators.”

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