BT is testing Dell EMC’s disaggregated networking switches to advance its software-defined networking (SDN) strategy.
The trial, taking place at the BT Labs in Adastral Park, England, will evaluate Dell EMC’s disaggregated switches coupled with specialist software against traditional integrated network switches.
Disaggregated switching uses merchant silicon-based switching systems combined with either commercially available or open source system software.
The two companies say this virtualized approach can create more flexible, agile networks.
“We’re very strongly of the view that what Dell has created could be deployed in the live network,” said BT Chief Architect Neil McRae.
BT isn’t a Dell EMC data center switch customer — yet.
“But by doing this proof-of-concept trial and showing the technology is ready for us, the next stage of this is continuing to work with Dell EMC,” McRae said, adding that BT is an existing customer of other Dell Technologies’ products and services. “We don’t research things unless we think there’s a deployability.”
BT currently uses integrated switching technology from Cisco, Juniper, and Brocade. “We pretty much have deployed all of the traditional vendors at some stage,” McRae said. “All of those are fabulous partners for us as well. But as we move into this transformation of telecommunications with software-defined networks, having greater programmability of the switches is becoming more and more important to us.”
Disaggregated switches can be managed flexibly using Netconf protocol and YANG models, McRae added. This makes the entire system inherently programmable and allows the switches to be operated in concert to spin up new network services or make configuration changes rapidly.
“I believe everyone will be moving toward disaggregated switching,” he said. “Being able to choose the feature functionality you need, depending on your environment, is a massive benefit in the service provider community.”
Some 600 customers globally have deployed Dell EMC’s disaggregated networking switches, said Tom Burns SVP and general manager at Dell EMC Networking.
“In 2014, we made the decision that we would be the first to disaggregate the hardware and software,” Burns said. “It’s not in one or two switching products, it’s our entire data center portfolio. Open-source software and selecting third-party software providers as partners allows us to meet the specific needs of the customer.”
Customer demand for disaggregated data centers is growing, Burns added. “Service providers and enterprises want to stop thinking about three silos — compute, storage, and networking — and want a single platform that you manage with a common set of tools and orchestration.”
Additionally, most customers don’t use the vast majority of protocols and features on traditional integrated networking switches.
“Let’s say you are using 40 protocols on the switch. Then you need to make sure the other 1,000 are not disrupting that particular use case,” Burns said. “We’re saying what is the actual level of features and protocols you need, and that is what we put on the switch.”
Telecom Use Cases
BT’s initial trials will use IP Infusion. The partners will evaluate several use cases including the instant activation of Ethernet circuits from a third party (such as an enterprise), and the ability of the system to deliver real-time network operational data.
The platform also has the potential to deliver other programmable use cases such as bandwidth calendaring – flexing the bandwidth of an Ethernet circuit according to customer need via a predetermined calendar, and automatically delivering network telemetry to third parties, the companies say.