Yukio Ito is a board member of the Open Networking Foundation and Senior Vice President of Service Infrastructure at NTT Communications Corporation in Tokyo, a subsidiary of NTT, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world.
SDNCentral: Ito-san, you were one of the earliest supporters of OpenFlow, and NTT has been at the forefront of SDN and OpenFlow production deployments. How did you first get involved? What was so exciting about OpenFlow?
Mr. Ito: “More than four years ago, I visited Stanford University and met Nick McKeown and Guru Parulkar. Prior to that, I had many years of experience on the NTT communications network based on many kinds of technologies such as asynchronous transfer mode (ATM). I had experience with multi-path label switching (MPLS) transport networks, as well as large-scale L3 packet networks
With vendor’s routers, every function is in one box. When people use IP MPLS P2P path function, they are still using routers. I saw when there were problems on the control plane, every customer’s connectivity would be affected. This is an important issue. I believed the control and data plane should be separated.
I had heard some information from vendors about interesting research at Stanford on OpenFlow. Guido Appenzeller and Martin Casado were still students. Nick and Guru asked what I thought about the concept of SDN and control plane and data plane separation. They thought it was very good concept for changing network configuration in the data center. I wanted to use it not only for the data center, but also for the whole transport network.
No one had used SDN like that before. We started investigating it very actively. The SDN concept was the ideal situation any operator would want to have. The network operator can control the control plane functions to provide new software services. With brand new plug-ins on those controllers, you could provide services on-demand and change legacy workflows. This was a big, huge evolution for the operation of whole networks – not just at layers 2 and 3, but I believe for layers 1 through 7 as well.”
SDNCentral: With many of the initiatives we’re seeing in the networking ecosystem, the terms network function virtualization (NFV) and SDN are now said in the same breath. What’s your take and opinion around NFV, and how do you see it relating to SDN?
Mr. Ito: “It is an interesting time for OpenFlow and SDN. We knew we should be able to use it to get to three main benefits: time to market, service differentiation, and reducing OpEx and CapEx. People have started to realize all three benefits, focusing only on internal workflow at first. Service providers developed completely automated workflows with self-service customer portals for both computer resource configuration and virtualized network configuration.
In the case of NFV, telecom companies such as BT, France, Telefonica are thinking about deploying SDN on their networks combined with NFV. They have an interesting evolution of computer network technologies. In their cloud data centers, they have common x86-based hardware. And meanwhile, they have dedicated hardware special-function networking devices using similar technologies that cost more to maintain and are not uniform. I agree with the purpose of an NFV initiative that helps transform those special-function systems to run on common x86-based hardware.
In the carrier markets, the giants need some kind of differentiation. I feel that they can create their own advantage by adding virtualized network functions. Combined with their existing transport, core router infrastructure and multiple data center locations, they can use NFV to create an advantage against competitors.”
SDNCentral: Beyond layers 2 and 3, what do you see happening around layers 4-7?
Mr. Ito: “In L4-L7, most carriers are using hardware appliances in the data center. They’re trying to change to software-based appliance functions, for example, using the functionality of vCloud Director to add those services.
In addition, in combination with NFV-type initiatives, service providers like NTT are also investigating how to build their own SDN controllers so they can find a way to control all resources on the networks. These SDN controllers will integrate via the OpenFlow protocol, as well as with other systems today like GMPLS, GRE, essentially any southbound API interfaces that control any type of network from L1-L7.
These controllers will have northbound APIs that can integrate with L4-7 software, perhaps running on VMs. At NTT, we’re hoping to create some of these northbound APIs and make them open global standards. Perhaps after things settle down at the ONF, we can restart the northbound API discussions again. Right now vendor implementation of northbound APIs are extremely slow, which is why we are waiting for more active solutions on the vendor side.”
SDNCentral: Can you share a little about your deployment today? What technologies do you use in your cloud offerings?
Mr. Ito: “Today we use VMware’s vCloudDirector, but there is strong interest around OpenStack. VMware has worked well for us, and many of our customers demand it. However, we are also getting customer demand for other hypervisors like XEN, KVM, or Hyper-V. It depends on the customer demand. If they want a multi-hypervisor cloud, we will provide one.
On top of multi-tenant cloud networking, we also provide virtualized network connectivity. Today, we use NEC’s ProgrammableFlow solutions. It has worked well for us and by the end of May, using new functionality, we will have virtual networks that can span multiple co-locations. We currently have 10 co-location data centers across eight countries. This will up to 11 locations in 9 countries by the end of the year. With tunneling across data centers, we will be able to connect across these locations, as well as between on-premises at the customer and our cloud data center. Some of this will be achieved via directly connecting across MPLS or IPsec VPN networks into enterprise clouds.
Related to this, we are looking at expanding OpenFlow SDN connectivity to the WAN network so it goes to any customer location. I think any type of physical network will reach end-of-life at some point and at that time, if we can switch to flexible SDN networks, it will benefit all.”
SDNCentral: Are you seeing any savings from your current SDN deployments?
Mr. Ito: “Based on today’s deployment, we are seeing reduction in CapEx, but more in OpEx. I believe that having a common SDN controller has tremendous benefits in OpEx and the benefits also span to improved monitoring and troubleshooting. While we just started measuring the financial benefits last year, we are seeing CapEx savings of around 20-30% today, and we estimate that will rise to 50% by 2015. On the OpEx side, we’re hoping for over 50% by the end of 2015.”
SDNCentral: Speaking of a common SDN controller, what about NTT’s own Ryu (an OpenFlow controller open-source project started by NTT)? Do you see that being deployed in your cloud data centers soon?
Mr. Ito: “Today we use the NEC controller for our OpenFlow network. That is our current situation. We continue to investigate other controllers to provide options in the future and prevent vendor lock-in. We are working in close collaboration with NTT Labs on Ryu, as well as a higher-level of orchestration called ‘Big Boss’ that was co-developed with NTT’s I3 Laboratories.”
SDNCentral: Can you share a little about NTT’s I3 Laboratories?
Mr. Ito: “Certainly. It’s a little known fact, but NTT has one of the largest R&D teams in the world, with over 6,000 researchers worldwide and an annual budget of USD$3.5billion. The I3 Laboratories was formed out of the MCL group today in Silicon Valley. They are focused on enhancing current products and services related to cloud and security. It is a significant investment for us since historically most of our R&D has been done in Japan. The group is under 30 today but we are looking to grow it to 50 by end of 2013 and over 100 by 2015. I3 Laboratories will also host an executive briefing center to showcase NTT here in the Americas.”
SDNCentral: To wrap up our conversation, there’s been a big OpenDaylight buzz here at ONS. What’s your take on it?
Mr. Ito: “I think that it is helpful. Vendor’s activities for OpenFlow SDN for implementation have been slow. If people keep the open source situation going with OpenDaylight activities, that is a good thing for us. We have been in active discussions with the vendors in OpenDaylight and the learnings from that have been helpful to us and our customers.”
SDNCentral: Thank you very much for your time, Ito-san! We wish you and NTT continued success in your SDN roll-out!