Telecom Italia is constantly on the lookout for innovative technologies that provide a competitive advantage. The goal is to be the first to offer new services to customers.

The latest hot innovations around Software Defined Networking (SDN) caught Telecom Italia’s attention. SDN promises to simplify network operations. And simpler network operations are a big piece of increasing service levels. Delivering new types of services. And doing it all faster.

Like most companies these days, Telecom Italia doesn’t know yet exactly how it will use SDN. But one thing is clear. Introducing new services faster is key to competitive position. That requires a simpler and smarter infrastructure. And today’s mostly manual methods just won’t keep up. Something has to change, and that’s why SDN is garnering so much discussion in the industry.

That’s where Telecom Italia’s story veers from the usual path. Instead of doing the old “wait-and-see,” Telecom Italia partnered with five Italian universities to build a testbed for SDN research. Engineers are already using the lab to familiarize themselves with network programming technology. They’re trying out various scenarios for introducing new services and automating management. So when the time comes to add network programmability to the production network, Telecom Italia can hit the ground running.

The Target: New Services and Lower Costs

The Joint Open Lab (JOL) consortium includes Telecom Italia and the five universities: Trento University, Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Polytechnic University of Milan, Polytechnic University of Turin, and Catania University. JOL began the first six-month research phase earlier this year. The SDN experiment may continue through 2017.

One goal is new kinds of control, automation, and security. Among the first projects is “network slicing,” using OpenFlow. The idea behind network slicing is that the network manager can allow other people to control just one domain (slice) of the network. This makes it easier for different teams to experiment on the network without affecting the others. In the test, teams from different universities each control a slice of the same network infrastructure.

Another goal is lower operational costs. With network programmability, Telecom Italia can automate configuration changes based on real-time network conditions. Applications tell a network controller when they need network resources. Then the controller tells the network infrastructure equipment. This reduces the need for human intervention. It’s a step towards automation and a step towards application-centric infrastructure.

Staying Flexible as SDN Plans Evolve
To build the JOL SDN test network, called JOLnet, Telecom Italia needed:

  • Reliable switches with OpenFlow support
  • OpenFlow controller software and a server to host it
  • Servers for the universities’ applications they would run over JOLnet
  • Routers to link the universities to the lab

Telecom Italia chose Cisco for JOL after also evaluating three other vendors. Here’s how the pieces fit together to form the SDN testbed:

  • Cisco’s commercially available Open Daylight controller, called Cisco eXtensible Network Controller (XNC), is hosted on a Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) Blade Server in the lab. Applications that need more or fewer network resources request them through XNC.
  • XNC centrally controls ten Cisco Catalyst 3850 Switches, one pair for each of the five universities.
  • Each university has its own Cisco UCS C220 Series Rack Server to host its applications.
  • Cisco Cloud Services Router (CSR) 1000V software links the five universities to each other and to the lab, over Layer 2 tunnels. The router software operates as a virtual server on the Cisco UCS. This saved the consortium from having to purchase and manage physical routers for the testbed.

A Head Start

SDN holds a lot of promise, but there are still many questions. With JOLnet, Telecom Italia is gaining the experience to answer those questions and start using SDN to increase its competitive advantage. “Creating a software model of the network can reduce the amount of human intervention needed, improving service profitability,” said Paolo Fasano, broadband network services innovation manager for Telecom Italia. “Cisco technology provides a stable network infrastructure to support the experiments we need to carry out and find the answers to the most pressing SDN questions.”

Read the full Telecom Italia case study here and view more customer stories here. What are your plans for SDN and other forms of network programmability? Join the conversation by commenting below or on Twitter using #FutureOfIT.


Erica Schroeder

Director of Marketing, Emerging Technologies