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Pacnet combines SDN and NFV to sell bandwidth-on-demand services

Pacnet implemented OpenFlow SDN to enable WAN and data center bandwidth-on-demand services. Then NFV came along and made things even more interesting.

When Asian service provider Pacnet first set out to transform its network with SDN almost two years ago, the goal was to allow enterprises to self-provision bandwidth-on-demand for WAN and data center connectivity.

Since then, NFV has emerged, as well the concept of a programmable optical transport layer, and Pacnet has broadened the scope of what network as a service could mean for both enterprise and carrier reseller customers.

Phase one: Bandwidth-on-demand services

Pacnet started its transformation by deploying a centralized SDN OpenFlow controller from Vello Systems, along with white-box switches and routers running the operating system VellOS. On top of that, Pacnet built an OpenStack cluster on a reference design from Mirantis for resource orchestration.

The system -- called the Pacnet Enabled Network -- interconnects several high performance data centers and POPs throughout Asia and allows enterprise customers to self-provision virtual network resources across a WAN, within a hosted data center, or between private and public resources for a hybrid cloud.

To facilitate customer control, Pacnet has also deployed a self-service portal that lets users request the exact amount of bandwidth and virtual network resources they need for specific applications, along with distinct QoS policy. The portal interacts with the orchestrator and controller, which first take inventory of the available network resources, and then provision based on policy.

"We wanted to give customers the ability to provision private enterprise networks the same way they would the cloud," said Jim Fagan, president of managed services for Pacnet. "The customer can come in and get a collo rack with a patch panel at the top that plugs them into the Pacnet network. They can at that point start provisioning private networks throughout Asia at increments of [as little as] one hour, and [ranging] from one megabit to one gig."

A single network topology for hybrid cloud resources

Part of the promise of network virtualization and orchestration is the ability to provision virtual network segments across data centers and domains.

Using Pacnet, customers can combine their private data center resources with those either in a Pacnet facility or in the AWS cloud. Then they can managing and orchestrate it all as one topology.

"We are creating fabric to interconnect their workloads and departments, and to access the public cloud securely," said Fagan.

In one such scenario, a major retailer uses Pacnet as an international MPLS provider, and combines its large private cloud with applications stored in AWS.

 "We've made one of their end points in our Sydney data center and that gets them access into our network. From there they are using our SDN to interconnect with AWS Direct Connect, but with flexible bandwidth," said Fagan.

Pacnet aims to provide enterprises as much control as they want over these virtual network resources – but in some cases enterprises want it to be as simple as possible.

"The customer has to set up BGP routing to make the AWS Direct Connect, and we’ve found with enterprise customers, they’re not that familiar with BGP. Now with NFV, the customer is able to have a template, [which will] automatically inject that BGP routing with the right tables. That is really where you are getting to click-and-connect," said Fagan.

How NFV transforms network-as-a-service

In the time that Pacnet has built its programmable infrastructure, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has steadily worked to define NFV infrastructure and to outline the virtual network functions (VNFs) that might run on top. Though the technology is young, Pacnet has introduced basic NFV and service provisioning, but plans to add more in the coming year.

"We have some Linux-based firewalls and routers that customers can inject into their networks," Fagan said. “We think the NFV is going to allow us to play up the stack in the network."

In the next phase, Pacnet will create a VNF marketplace where users can shop for routers, load balancers and application accelerators. Over time, Pacnet will also build four "NFV farms" in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan all running on an OpenStack cluster, Fagan said. Billing for these injected services will be integrated into the system, dynamically charging per path or port, he added.

Moving SDN into the optical transport layer

Even before Pacnet began changing its Layer 2/3 options with SDN, the company had begun building a 100 gigabit optical transport network. Now Pacnet will push centralized control and orchestration down to this new optical layer.

"Our goal is by early next year is offer SDN down to Layer 0 and Layer 1," said Fagan. "There are two [optical network infrastructure] providers, Infinera and Ciena … and basically, we're working with them to push that control down into their software. We want them to build and expose APIs for us," said Fagan.

That could eventually change how Pacnet provides capacity to resellers.

"At that point we can allow other carriers, instead of buying bulk capacity, they could provision sub networks on our network. They could buy a terabit of network and move it around in massive 10 gigabit or 100 gigabit ways. We are starting a new level of flexibility in how networks being built [and sold]," Fagan said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Rivka Gewirtz Little, or follow her on Twitter.

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