Cisco, Telecom Italia and five universities delving into SDN via test bed

Telecom Italia is collaborating with five Italian universities on a research test bed for software-defined networking using technology from Cisco.

Universities participating in the Joint Open Lab (JOL) consortium include Trento University, Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Polytechnic University of Milan, Polytechnic University of Turin and Catania University. JOL began the first six-month research phase earlier this year. The SDN experiment may continue through 2017, according to Erica Schroeder, director of marketing for Cisco enterprise video.

Schroeder wrote in a blog post on Cisco's website that Telecom Italia has not figured out exactly how it will use SDN, putting it in league with most companies. But the operator is committed to exploring SDN as a way to introduce new services faster using a simpler, smarter and more automated infrastructure. It is also looking to network programmability as a way to lower network operating costs.

One of the test bed's first projects addresses network slicing using OpenFlow. Network slicing enables others beside the network manager to control a single domain, or slice, of the network. This approach enables teams from the different universities to each control a slice of the same network infrastructure so they can conduct network experiments without affecting the others.

To set up the JOL SDN test network, called JOLnet, Telecom Italia required switches with OpenFlow support, OpenFlow controller software and a server to host it, servers for the universities' applications they would run over JOLnet and routers to link the universities to the lab. That is where Cisco's products come into play.

"Cisco technology provides a stable network infrastructure to find the answers to the most pressing SDN questions," said Paolo Fasano, Telecom Italia's broadband network services innovation manager.

Schroeder said Telecom Italia is using Cisco's eXtensible Network Controller (XNC), which is based on Open Daylight. The controller is hosted on a Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) blade server in the lab. The XNC centrally controls 10 Cisco Catalyst 3850 switches, one pair for each of the five universities. Each university also has its own Cisco UCS C220 Series rack server to host applications.

In addition, Cisco Cloud Services Router (CSR) 1000V software operates as a virtual server on the Cisco UCS, linking the universities to one another and the lab via Layer 2 tunnels. This set-up meant the consortium did not need to use physical routers for the test bed.

Interestingly, as carriers such as Telecom Italia increasingly dabble in the worlds of SDN and network functions virtualization (NFV), they are becoming more cautious regarding capital expenditures on new routers and switches.

According to Infonetics Research, during 2014's first quarter the global carrier router and switch market, including IP edge and core routers and carrier Ethernet switches (CES), totaled $3.2 billion, down 13 percent from the fourth quarter of 2013 and up just 2 percent from the first quarter of 2013.

"Last quarter, we identified the 'SDN hesitation,' where we believe the enormity of the coming software-defined networking and network functions virtualization (NFV) transformation is making carriers be more cautious with their spending," said Michael Howard, principal analyst for carrier networks and co-founder of Infonetics. "This hesitation reared its head in the first quarter of 2014, where global service provider router and switch revenue increased only 2 percent from the year-ago quarter."

For more:
- see this Cisco blog post
- see this Cisco infographic
- see this FierceTelecom article

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