Verizon Outlines Plan to Transform Network with SDN

The giant telco is working with such vendors as Cisco, Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent to implement its network virtualization initiative.

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Verizon is embracing software-defined networking, becoming the latest telecommunications vendor to say that it will adopt network virtualization to transform its architecture.

Verizon officials said April 28 that it is working with a number of top networking technology companies—Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Systems, Ericsson, Juniper Networks and Nokia Networks—to create a new network infrastructure that will help Verizon save money and more quickly spin out new services for its customers.

The announcement comes just over a year after rival AT&T unveiled a six-year plan to build what officials are calling the User-Defined Network Cloud that will embrace software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV), two technologies that promise to significantly change how networks are built and operated. AT&T officials expect to virtualize and control more than 75 percent of its network using the new architecture by 2020.

AT&T's Domain 2.0 project also includes some of the same tech partners as those working with Verizon, including Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent, which is in the process of being acquired by Nokia for $16.6 billion.

On the same day as Verizon's announcement, officials with Singapore-based telco StarHub said the company had begun changing its existing core and access networks into cloud-based environments that leverage SDN technologies. StarHub is working with Huawei Technologies on the two-year project.

SDN and NFV are designed to help carriers and enterprises to build more programmable, flexible and agile networks by detaching the control plane and networking tasks—such as firewalls and intrusion detection and prevention—from proprietary hardware and putting it into software that can run on less expensive commodity systems. Trends such as mobile computing, analytics, social media, the Internet of things and the cloud are putting greater demands on networks, which need to become easier to manage and program.

"The demands on networking today are many and include the proliferation of mobile devices, application/data movement to the cloud; greater traffic variability; explosion of cyber-threats and changes in standards/chipsets," Shawn Hakl, head of network platform and managed services for Verizon Enterprise Solutions, said in a post on the company blog. "Enterprises must keep up with these demands in order to innovate and compete. … Networks today are relatively static because they are so complex—when you change them, you risk breaking something. With this model, you can realize more sophistication in the network without adding complexity. … SDN lets enterprises keep up with the changing nature of their businesses, enabling them to be more responsive to users, customers and market opportunities."

Verizon officials didn't go into much detail regarding their plans—including how long the project will take or how much it will cost. However, they did say that the telco and its partners had created an SDN network architecture document that lays out all interface specifications and reference architectures needed for the new infrastructure, as well as the requirements for the control layer and forwarding box functions.

The document will give Verizon and its partners a roadmap for developing the various solutions that will be needed to transform the network.

The company already has been working toward this goal for several years. Verizon has created live lab environments in Waltham, Mass., San Jose, Calif., and Tampa, Fla. There also are commercial data center environments on both the East and West coasts.