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Pathway to a Cloud-Ready Wide-Area Network (WAN)

Tighter Planning Cycles for Greater Efficiency with the Evolved Services Platform

In the global geography of telecom, wide-area networks (WAN) are oceans of uncertainty. Resource-constrained and multivendor, WANs produce delays and outages in far-flung and sometimes remote areas, posing a special set of issues that are distinct from those we see in data centers and access networks.

WAN bandwidth is the most expensive bandwidth in the network and failure impacts are large. WANs bear the brunt of traffic growth with a very tricky calculus: underbuild your WAN and jeopardize your brand, but overbuild it and spend your way into oblivion.

Greater Predictability through Ever-Shortening Planning Cycles

To keep pace with these conundrums, you need sophisticated modeling and planning tools, which naturally evolved—in the case of the WAN Automation Engine (WAE)—into an ever-tightening loop of planning, building, and measuring, eventually encompassing SDN.

Longer planning cycles inevitably means over-engineering, over-building and over-hiring. With the Evolved Services Platform’s (ESP) Orchestration Engine, Cisco is shrinking these cycles, and thus reducing the uncertainties that lead to inefficiencies.

Last week I discussed the Orchestration Engine of the ESP in terms of how different components fit in individual domains. Let’s see how to use this framework to plan, engineer, and ultimately automate the WAN to make it cloud-ready.

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As the Process Becomes More Automated, a Shrinking Planning Cycle Brings Huge Efficiencies.

The cycle progressively shortens, from years to months, and eventually (with automated, programmable networking) to continuous changes. As this process moves from manual to automated, the network becomes more predictable.

But Why is this Happening Now? Read More »

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Optimize Your Software-Defined Network by Hardware Requirements

Software-based techniques are transforming networking. Commercial off-the-shelf hardware is finding a place in several networking use cases. However, high-performance hardware is also an important part of a successful software-defined networking (SDN). As you optimize your networks using SDN tools and complementary technologies such as network function virtualization (NFV), an important step is to strategically assess your hardware needs based on the functions and performance requirements. These need to be aligned with your intended business outcome for individual applications and services.

Two Categories of High Performance Hardware

  • Network hardware that utilizes purpose-built designs. These often involve specialized Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC)s to achieve significantly higher performance than what is possible or economically feasible using commercial off-the-shelf servers that are based on state of the art, x86-based, general purpose processors.
  • Network hardware that uses standard x86 servers that is enhanced to provide high performance and predictable operation for example, via special software techniques that bypass hypervisors, virtualization environments, and operating systems.

Where to Deploy Network Functions
Can virtualized network functions be deployed like cloud-based applications? No. There is a big difference between deploying network functions as software modules on x86 general purpose servers and using a common cloud computing model to implement network virtualization. Simply migrating existing network functions to general purpose servers without due regard to all the network requirements leads to dramatically uneven and unpredictable performance. This unpredictability is mainly due to data plane workloads being often I/O bound and/or memory bound and software layers containing important configuration details that may impact performance.
These issues are not specifically about hardware but how the software handles the whole environment. Operating systems, hypervisors, and other infrastructure that is not integrated into best practices for data plane applications will continue to contribute to unpredictable performance.

Bandwidth and CPU Needs

Optimization 10.20

A good way to begin to assess hardware requirements is to examine network functions in two dimensions: I/O bandwidth or throughput needs, and computational power needs. In considering which network function to virtualize and where to virtualize it, CPU load required and bandwidth load required throughout different layers of the network can help determine that some but not all network functions are suitable for virtualization.

Applications with lower I/O bandwidth and low-to-high CPU requirements may be most appropriate for virtualized deployment on optimized x86 servers. Applications with higher I/O bandwidth and low-to-high CPU requirements may be best deployed on specialized high-performance hardware with specialized silicon. Many other factors may play a role in determining what hardware to use for which applications, including cost, user experience, latency, networking performance, network predictability, and architectural preferences.
Service-Network Abstraction is Key
Additionally, you might not need high performance hardware for certain functions initially. But as such a particular function scales, it might require a high performance platform to meet its performance specifications, or it might be more economical on a purpose-built platform. So you might start out with commercial off-the-shelf hardware and then transfer the workload to the high performance hardware later. If you have focused on establishing a clean abstraction of the services from the underlying hardware infrastructure using SDN principles, the network deployment can be more easily changed or evolved independently of the upper services and applications. This is the true promise of SDN.
Read more about how to assess hardware performance requirements in your SDN in the Cisco® white paper “High-Performance Hardware: Enhance Its Use in Software-Defined Networking.” You can find it here: “Do You Know your Hardware Needs?” along with other useful information.

Do you have questions or comments? Tweet us at @CiscoSP360

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Join Us at BBWF 2014

October 9, 2014 at 6:58 am PST

Written by Greg Nehib, Cisco Senior Product Marketing Manager nehib-1

Network functions virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN) will get a lot of interest this year at BBWF 2014 Broadband World Forum 2014 as carriers seek to make networks more agile and efficient. In talking to both service providers and large enterprises, it’s clear that we are already in another major transition in the networking industry.

I’ve spoken with many talented individuals about what NFV and SDN means to their networks.  Some of these visions are very broad and long ranging and some are more narrowly focused on delivering or optimizing a single service very quickly.  It’s clear that NFV has already been deployed in many different service applications while SDN has been noticeably slower to develop a focused following.  Even in the case of Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs), there is an interesting combination of features focused on services delivery and features focused on infrastructure innovation.  In this case “services” are typically the services that carriers sell to their end customers such as a  Virtual Private Network (VPN)  and “infrastructure” is the virtualization of the typical network functions such as a virtualized route reflector on an x86 based server instead of running the route reflector application in an existing (physical) router. Read More »

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Operators Accelerating Pace with NFV and SDN

Save Money Here and Now

When was the last time you won the lottery?  If you are like me, it’s a pretty rare occasion indeed.  The same probability can be applied to increasing the budget allocation for any business and especially for service providers.  What can service providers do to save money now, enabling them to invest in new services and boost revenues?   Network functions virtualization (NFV) comes to the rescue, with help of course, from software defined networking (SDN), and open source innovations.

SDN and NFV represent a significant change in networking as we currently know it. Together and separately, both target cost savings, operational complexity, and network optimization – and both hold much promise for the operator. As with all things offering great potential rewards, one must balance these benefits and address the associated risks accordingly when deploying them.

For service providers, the data center is leading target for SDN and NFV deployments. Given all the activity focused on cloud computing, content delivery, and anything-as-a-service (XaaS) offerings, the service provider data centers must advance across many fronts (security, automation, mobility, reliability analytics, and provisioning) to be successful.

Interestingly, all operators Read More »

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Enabling Open, Agile, Application Centric Networks With Cisco Evolved Services Platform

Service provider customers expect more.   The pace of change around us is not just constant but continuing to accelerate.   To stay competitive with the nimble new players in the market, service providers need to change how they engage all of their end customers.   Not exactly an easy challenge to overcome, but rapid and successful business transformation will put operators right in the middle of a world of new opportunities to capture customer mindshare.  Exciting times are ahead!

So, what will it take for service providers to save money on their current service offerings, enabling them to invest and expand their businesses?   Positive outcomes are made possible by an open, agile, and application centric approach, combining emerging Software-Defined Network (SDN), Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), and Open API technologies …  not just to the network… but to all of their business processes.

Faster creation of personalized services that are easy to consume is enabled by the Cisco Evolved Services Platform (ESP), automating and provisioning new services in real-time at web speed.   End customers can Read More »

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