Through policy-based and centralized control, Ericsson’s Service Provider software-defined networking (SDN) brings SDN solutions to the network outside the data center. SDxCentral’s Roy Chua talked with Elena Romero, Ericsson’s head of product line SDN and policy control, about what real-world problems Ericsson is solving with SDN solutions such as vCPE and how the technology is helping operators prepare for the future. Romero also covers Ericsson’s views on SDN policy and their OpenStack cloud visions.
SDxCentral: Ericsson has been very active in the field of SDN and open source, driving initiatives in SDN research and contributing significant investment in OpenDaylight and OpenStack. What is your overall SDN strategy?
Romero: One of the beauties of being in a company like Ericsson, with a big end-to-end portfolio and market reach, is that there are many things you can do. We have been able to take a global perspective when it comes to our SDN strategy. SDN is a technology that you can use in many different places, so we asked ourselves, “Where does it make most sense to have SDN?” From a timing perspective as well, “What are the domains that can benefit from SDN earlier, and what are their immediate needs?” The answer is that there are three main domains we address with our SDN solutions: services, cloud, and transport.
In the services area, SDN can help operators to offer services in a more efficient way in the Gi-LAN. This is something we have already deployed in operators’ networks. SDN in the cloud is about bringing advanced connectivity and abstraction capabilities to the virtual networking infrastructure and SDN is most suited to do that.
The third domain is SDN for transport – how to make use of SDN to build an abstraction of the network, especially by managing optical and IP networks in an integrated way. SDN can bring dynamicity and real time programmability to the transport infrastructure that has always been a domain of static and long-lived connections.
One of the important things about Ericsson SDN solutions is that we are addressing these three domains with the same core technology. That’s what allows scalability and efficiency.
How do you see the role of OpenDaylight and OpenStack?
Romero: OpenDaylight is the core platform for our SDN solution in all of the domains. We selected an open source component because Ericsson traditionally has believed in industry consensus. We have always been very, very active in 3GPP, and all of the other standardization fora.
Now we are moving into a place where the way to get industry consensus is evolving. Things are done differently in R&D; it’s not about full detailed specification and then development. It’s really to bring software and build incrementally. That’s the way to guarantee speed.
We believe open source is key for the industry today to have a consensus on how to do things and to provide the speed industry needs. We think OpenDaylight is the most mature consortium in the industry for SDN – same thing with OpenStack for cloud.
What about ONOS?
Romero: ONOS has a great advantage in the fact that we have service providers directly at the table, and that is important to us. Direct engagement with them not only ensures we are on the same page as our customers, but also drives co-development, which is the model of the future.
Romero: We think all three technologies are trying to solve a similar problem, which is complexity in operators’ networks and the need for agility in operations. These three technologies are trying to create abstraction of the actual infrastructure below. NFV is somewhat about independence from the hardware. Cloud is about sharing resources and scalability, and SDN is doing exactly the same for networking. Creating an abstraction layer independent of the network equipment and vendors enables you to offer a northbound interface that can be exposed independently of the actual elements you have. That’s how they fit together.
Ericsson’s SDN architecture uses three controllers. How do you manage orchestration across them? How does that integrate into customer environments?
Romero: You are now talking about the Broadband Service Controller (BBSC), The Cloud Network Controller (CNC), and the Multilayer WAN Controller (MLWC). First, they are not three different controllers; they are control applications for the different domains. They all run on the same common controller platform, which is based on OpenDaylight plus Ericsson robustness and platform capabilities. So they are really based on the same common core controller. Then, we are building functionality specific for each domain so deployments can be focused on the specific needs of each domain. This way, it is easier much more scalable to introduce the technology.
Really, if you think about it, each of these domains are also maturing in different cycles. So it is much more practical from a business sense as well. At the same time, using a common core controller and having an unified vision of the network allows Ericsson to develop powerful interaction mechanisms between the different controllers where it makes sense, e.g. between services and cloud domain for virtualized services, or between cloud and transport domains for distributed data centers.
Orchestration is a key component in this vision of network abstraction and automation. Our orchestration strategy involves the Ericsson Network Management system, the Ericsson Cloud Manager, and other components from the Ericsson OSS portfolio. Of course we are open to working with any third party orchestrator, but having the possibility to build a complete solution in-house also allows us to have a better understanding of the needs and challenges of operators.
What are the key business problems you’re looking to solve with SDN and the cloud? What are the hottest use cases?
Romero: When planning our SDN strategy, we considered the full transformational aspect of the future networks, but we wanted to start with use cases that help operators solve problems today.
One of these problems today is how operators offer services to users, and that links to use cases in the Gi-LAN space. The fact is that it’s hard for operators to configure the network so as to apply specific services to a small amount of traffic. Even in a static way it’s quite difficult to decide which traffic to send. In a dynamic way (depending on variable conditions like who the user is, what’s the kind of traffic, network conditions, etc.) it’s almost impossible. Operators usually over-dimension services like parental control even though only 10 percent of customers require it. Or things like video optimizers – it’s quite inefficient to send all the traffic through video optimizers even when there is no video traffic.
SDN can solve these very specific problems in a very simple way. In our case, our Dynamic Service Chaining solution ties SDN and Policy Control together to offer the granularity needed to decide and enforce, dynamically, what to do with what traffic based on who the subscriber is or parameters that the subscriber session can have.
Another use case we can look at is how to offer connectivity services for enterprises so they can access cloud applications in an efficient way. Our Virtual Enterprise Gateway solution, combining our services and cloud SDN solutions, helps move the IT infrastructure of the enterprises into a virtualized cloud environment. So in this way, SDN infrastructure allows operators to offer new enterprise and business services in the most efficient way.
How do you see SDN’s role in virtual EPC (Evolved Packet Core), virtual CPE (Customer Premises Equipment), or even RAN (Radio Access Networks)?
Romero: When you run virtual applications like EPC on a cloud infrastructure, SDN offers the best way to provide the connectivity in that environment. NFVs in general need more advanced connectivity capabilities than just virtual switching in the cloud and that is what SDN brings to the table.
On virtual CPE solutions, we have already mentioned our Virtual Enterprise Gateway solution, but we also provide virtual CPE for residential services through a solution we call “Virtual Home Gateway.” Virtual CPE provides a lot of benefits to operators and enterprises/consumers, including access to new services in a cost-efficient way. It’s a win-win situation for everybody, and SDN simplifies how we build it.
In the RAN domain, SDN can be very useful in abstracting the complex topologies of and bringing the benefits of real time programmability to mobile backhaul. Connection of the radio to the network is an area where operators are doing a lot of things. They would like to have a more services-oriented mobile backhaul that can react to changes in the radio network, and SDN can play an important role there. Our new Router 6000 series leads the way on this area, and it’s integrated both with our radio and SDN solutions.
Are the solutions to these use cases already in production? If not, how far from production do you think they are?
Romero: For the Gi-LAN, or for what we call “Dynamic Service Chaining,” those solutions are in commercial production today. With virtual CPEs, or Virtual Enterprise/Home Gateway, we are in trials with operators. You might have also seen a recent announcement about the conclusion of a trial with Telstra.
Just as the way to develop standards is changing, so is the way to work with our customers. It’s no longer about having the full product before going to the operator’s environment. Now it’s about much closer collaboration. With trials these days, we are working in DevOps mode, where feedback from operators is an early entry in our development so we can develop a product based on direct experience from the ones who will use it. We expect to have a full Virtual Enterprise/Home Gateways commercial solution for general availability by the end of the year.
Are there any trials with virtual EPC?
Romero: Yes, plenty. Operators are looking these days to virtual EPC to deploy parallel solutions to existing networks focused in specific segments and use cases: internet of things, enterprise offerings, MVNOs… It’s about deploying the most efficient solution for each use case. The evolution of the existing networks handling the mass-market traffic will take longer though.
There is a lot of debate about policy and SDN. What does policy mean to Ericsson, and how does it relate to your SDN strategy?
Romero: For us, the main, immediate meaning of policy is the 3GPP PCRF (Policy and Charging Rules Function). Service providers today already use policy and charging rules in mobile broadband networks, and fixed networks to some extent, to be able to offer personalized and dynamic services. We have an offering called the Service-Aware Policy Controller (SAPC) that has been very successful in implementing the PCRF functionality plus added value features. In fact, Ericsson is the recognized leader in this area.
A second aspect of policy for Ericsson is to connect the world of PCRF/SAPC to the world of SDN. This is a differentiator because we are bringing all the richness and information that the PCRF has, and using that to make decisions in the SDN area. It’s the PCRF who can enrich the SDN control with the subscriber information, the location information, the traffic information, and whatever dynamic information it already has. That is what will make the network not just more programmable, but also more self adapting and application responsive in a very dynamic way. This is the way to create automation in the network.
The third area we are exploring is the architecture of the future. Operators will need policy components in each of the domains and solutions in order to abstract and automate network actions. We are working in defining this architecture and our experience and maturity in PCRF will be a main asset to integrate policy engines wherever the network can benefit from it.
Are you familiar with the group-based policy effort in OpenDaylight? Will there be collision or unification?
Romero: Certainly we are well aware of the initiatives as part of OpenDaylight. I think there will be some unification. Probably one of the main things to think about here is reusing operators’ infrastructure. I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel for something that’s already there. By reusing the PCRF infrastructure the operator already has that information and it can be linked in a simple way with SDN.
My feeling is the market will converge on what makes more sense in terms of how easy it is to deploy in the operator’s network.
What do you hope will be Ericsson’s biggest accomplishment in 2015?
Romero: The measure of success for us will always be if we have helped our customers solve their challenges and realize the benefits of the advances in technology that we are bringing to the market.