SANTA CLARA, California — At the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) Connect event this week, Ron Howald, VP of network architecture at Comcast, copped to the fact that Google forced service providers such as Comcast to find ways to deliver faster internet speeds. “Google had quite a bit to do with setting the bar when they started with Google Fiber,” said Howald.
It’s generally agreed that was Google’s diabolical scheme all along. In 2011, the search giant created a ton of buzz about laying super-fast fiber in a few markets to compete with incumbent service providers. Then, after only a few years, Google’s parent company Alphabet put Google Fiber expansion plans on hold. It still provides service in the cities where it is already installed. But Google’s brief competition did light a fire under other service providers, at least in some markets
AT ONF Connect, Howald said, “We have to do things differently than we have been doing them for many years. It’s not a business-as-usual kind of thing.”
In addition to laying more fiber, Comcast is working on a distributed access architecture (DAA). “This is big for the cable industry,” said Howald. “We’re splitting functionality that used to be in big iron box into pieces. One of those pieces used to be an analog fiber node. That now becomes a digital fiber node. On the facility side, we’re taking some functionality out and putting it in the plant.”
What remains at the cable headend facility doesn’t have to be a customized “big iron box” anymore. What’s left behind is a packet processing, routing, and storage machine that can be fairly generic. And open source software can run on it.
The company is also working to converge its various access connections into a common core. In 2016 it joined two open source projects: the Open Network Operating System (ONOS) and the Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter (CORD).
Why Join ONF?
Both the ONOS project and the CORD project are hosted by the ONF. And now Comcast is leading the charge on two new ONF Reference Designs: the NFV Fabric and the Open Disaggregated Transport Network (ODTN).
Cable companies have a tradition of working together. This harks back to their roots. Because their cable footprints did not overlap each other, they could work together in a collegial fashion. But they were always secretive toward the outside world, and especially to telco competitors, in regard to their technological innovations. Comcast’s willingness to break with that tradition is notable.
Howald said the company decided to participate with ONF because it liked the “operator-led priorities” and that the group is focusing on problems at the edge and access network. “Some operators we compete with quite aggressively,” he said. “But there’s enough commonality that it makes sense to be here. We can get in rooms without throwing things at each other, so far.”
As part of its work with the NFV Fabric reference design, Comcast is working on a platform called Trellis. “The nature of a distributed access architecture is a leaf-spine architecture,” said Howald. “Trellis is a brand of that. There are plenty of other options. We’re going to evaluate all of them. We think this one has potential to be transformative in a way third-party solutions that you can buy today are not.”
Trellis is an open source SDN-based, multi-purpose L2/L3 spine-leaf switching fabric for data-center networking. Leveraging the ONOS controller, Trellis creates a non-blocking fabric for data centers using white box switching hardware and open source software.
He said Comcast has been testing Trellis “for quite some time” in labs and in field work as well.