Verizon's Open Source Network Points Way For Enterprises

May 24, 2016 Jeff Ferry

"From Physical to Virtual" With Big Switch, Red Hat & Dell


Verizon (VZ) has moved a major portion of its managed services network to open source infrastructure, demonstrating the viability of so-called white box open source networking for enterprises as well as service providers like Verizon. That's according to Verizon's Director of Network Infrastructure Planning, Chris Emmons (above). The rise of white box networking has been much discussed for the last five years, using software-defined networking (SDN), as an important shift in networking architecture threatening the dominant position and high profit margins of established networking vendors led by Cisco Systems (CSCO). That big shift has been slow to arrive, but Verizon's deployment could indicate the shift is underway. According to Emmons, the Verizon deployment shows a disaggregated white box architecture is viable, and delivers significant benefits. Benefits he cited include simpler operational management of the network, greater scalability, an avoidance of bandwidth bottlenecks—and more choices of vendors.

"If an enterprise wanted to get out from under Cisco or Alcatel, our deployment shows this could be a valuable way to go, with lower cost and more options," Emmons said in an interview with the Daily Cloud. "It's a different approach but the rewards are certainly there."

Last month, Verizon announced that it has deployed five U.S. data centers in its managed network services business with the new architecture, which it termed "Network Function Virtualization OpenStack." This network provides network services to Verizon's enterprise customers. It is distinct from Verizon's huge core telecom network. It's also distinct from Verizon's public cloud business, which has been rumored to be for sale. But the managed network services business is large, with 5,000 customers worldwide, according to Verizon.

This deployment was designed in the form of pods, with each pod consisting of twelve racks of servers, storage, and networking connections. The servers are from Dell, the storage software is Red Hat's (RHT) Ceph open source storage, and the networking is Big Switch's Big Cloud Fabric. Big Cloud Fabric includes a centralized SDN controller managing networking switches from Dell. The infrastructure is managed by Red Hat's OpenStack. Verizon's large-scale deployment, which will be rolled out to still more data centers in the months ahead, is an important endorsement of startup Big Switch's SDN approach. "We chose Big Switch because it supported software-hardware disaggregation and it has a tight integration with OpenStack," Emmons said. Using Big Switch's SDN controller, and the Neutron networking module in OpenStack, Verizon can deliver networking functions like firewalling to customers more quickly, cost-effectively and with less operational headache. The fact that firewall vendors like F5 (FFIV) and Palo Alto Networks (PANW) are moving to make their firewalls available in software makes the process even easier.

From Physical To Virtual

Emmons said the new architecture replaces traditional networking gear that came from a number of vendors, including Cisco, Alcatel, and Nokia (NOK). He praised Red Hat's open source software for making the deployment possible. "Red Hat's OpenStack platform was key. Big Switch integrated nicely with Red Hat OpenStack using open APIs, and all of it is on Dell hardware," he said. "We've gone from physical to virtual. We have taken all those solutions, all based on open source, and created a carrier-class cloud."

Emmons said that OpenStack clouds have so far generally been deployed by large organizations because they require significant engineering time and expertise, but that should change as the software gets more sophisticated and the process becomes better understood. Also, vendors including Red Hat, Canonical and Mirantis offer OpenStack support which eases the pain of building the solution. On the networking side, he said that disaggregating software from hardware makes it easier to change either software or hardware. "Juniper has said that Junos is now available on white box, so our options are expanding," he said, referring to Juniper Networks' (JNPR) Junos operating system.

"If we have a problem, we can always swap out our software," he said. "It's not like we're locking ourselves in."

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