TW Telecom first started using SDN controllers within its own network, says Adam Saenger, Level 3’s VP of global product development and management. Saenger, who came to Level 3 as part of the TW Telecom merger, says initially there was a desire to build a controller that would “take hands off the network.” TW Telecom engineers understood that “any time there’s a human touchpoint, there’s an opportunity for error.”
The company developed its own SDN technology. “We don’t talk about specific vendors,” says Saenger. “But as a service provider, we have to manage networks that span technologies at the edge and core.” Level 3 (and TW Telecom before it) use Cisco’s Tail-f software for the SDN controller.
After proving it in its own network, TW Telecom began using SDN for its enterprise and telco customers. At first these customers were given the ability to control capacity via software. But after awhile, customers said it would be a lot more useful if they didn’t have to go to a portal. They wanted to set capacity thresholds and have the network optimize capacity automatically.
Another popular SDN use case was data center backup. Saenger says a North American mortgage company uses Level 3’s SDN to backup data from its primary data center to a second data center in a different state. “Prior to Level 3, they would start their data replication on Friday night and, if lucky, complete that on Sunday evening,” says Saenger. But if there was a power issue or network congestion, the replication bled into Monday, disrupting weekday workloads.
With dynamic capacity they’re able to boost their capacity over the weekend and complete the replication in 12 to 15 hours. Although the extra capacity was always available, the customer couldn’t dial it up on demand. And they didn’t want to pay for it all the time. After becoming comfortable with the capacity-on-demand, that particular mortgage company now does data replication multiple times a week, during regular business hours. Often its regular bandwidth capacity suffices to do the task.
Prior to its purchase of TW Telecom, Level 3 used some SDN capabilities within its video on demand platform Vyvx. Today, Level 3’s SDN systems control over 75,000 network elements.
Level 3 is moving forward with more SDN services. Next on the agenda is software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN). At Light Reading’s 2016 NFV and Carrier SDN event recently, Andrew Dugan, group VP of global technology and IT, with Level 3, said the company is piloting SD-WAN. About seven engineers were assigned to work on SD-WAN with only the most general instructions to include policy-based routing and managed WiFi. Level 3 wants the customer to be able to configure its own WAN.
After about four months, the engineers provided Dugan with an x86 computer, a WiFi access point, and instructions via a self-service portal for the pilot. Dugan’s 20-year-old daughter was able to use the materials to set up the service in a half hour.