DukeNet Communications Puts SDN to the Test

Software defined networking (SDN) may have taken another step toward the mainstream today with a live SDN proof-of-concept demonstration conducted by DukeNet Communications.

Charlotte, NC-based DukeNet, jointly owned by Duke Energy and Alinda Capital Partners, provides carrier and enterprise fiber network solutions via 8,000 miles of fiber connecting metro areas in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Using technology from Accedian Networks and SDN vendor Cyan, DukeNet aimed to demonstrate the feasibility of SDN orchestration across both the wide area network (WAN) and data centers, according to a DukeNet statement.

The PoC focused on the dynamic creation and provisioning of VMs and virtualized network resources. OpenStack APIs and OpenFlow allowed applications on an enterprise server to request cloud data center VMs and network resources. The requests were then serviced by Cyan’s Blue Planet SDN platform.

Cyan’s Blue Planet software-based SDN platform works with both the vendor’s own Z-Series network devices and those of third parties. This positions the company closer to the middle of the SDN spectrum than Cisco, whose Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) looks poised to support Cisco’s continued proprietary hardware dominance, or overlay-focused vendors like Nicira, acquired by VMware in 2012, and PLUMgrid, whose CTO previously told ENP that ACI “skirted the concepts of openness, extensibility, and feature agility needed in this industry.” Elasticity and agility were key concepts highlighted by DukeNet’s PoC.

Much of our SDN coverage has focused on SDN within enterprise data centers, but the increasingly distributed nature of even enterprise infrastructures makes an examination of how SDN works across the WAN important, too. Brian Sutterfield, DukeNet’s director of technology, told ENP that one of the biggest successes of today’s PoC has been that “it shows how WAN automation and orchestration can be paired with virtualized resources in the data center for a new, unified service offering.”

“It’s the first step in creating new service types that move service providers up the value chain to provide elastic network services that match cloud services and elastic compute environments,” he added. Large, distributed enterprises should take note.

There is, of course, more work to be done, as Sutterfield admitted. While SDN has enjoyed a relatively steep hype cycle and rapid acceleration of development compared to other networking movements, “the ability for controllers to support multi-vendor networks and how SDN systems connect to the back office remain key long-term development requirements that haven’t been solved yet,” he said. Perhaps the open source OpenDaylight Project’s upcoming release, Hydrogen, will solve some of these issues, or perhaps the answers will come from other SDN developers as the technology continues to evolve.

Despite this hurdle, Sutterfield sounded enthusiastic about SDN’s potential. Service providers, he said, “are quickly testing and proving out the technology that will enable the network to act as elastically as the compute and cloud resources they need to do their business,” he said.

“Bandwidth on demand and elastic, customer-controlled networks are the services of the future, and this demonstration starts to show how it gets done,” Sutterfield said.

DukeNet Communications is set to be acquired by Time Warner Cable for $600 million in cash in the first quarter of 2014. Perhaps that will give SDN an even bigger boost in the carrier market.

ENP editor Jude ChaoJude Chao is executive editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.

Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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