Software Defined Networking SDN

“SDN makes new collaboration between IT and business possible”

Florian Waefler, Head of B2B Offerings at Swisscom, explains why companies should switch to software-defined networking – and what paradigm shifts SDN brings about.

Text: Hansjörg Honegger, Images: Daniel Brühlmann, 08 january 2018

Recently, you said that soon nothing would work without a software-defined network (SDN). Isn't that a bit dramatic?

No. The business is changing extremely quickly, particularly amongst Swisscom’s corporate customers. Conventional processes in the network no longer suffice.

Florian Waefler, Head of B2B Offerings, Swisscom

Could you give an example?

Take one of our customers from western Switzerland with lots of small points of sale as an example. Numerous changes constantly need to be made, with new openings, relocations and closures taking place. Conventional processes can no longer cope with these major location dynamics, in combination with continually changing offerings, without considerable expense. SDN technology represents the answer to this problem.

You mentioned corporate customers and their complex processes. In their case, switching to SDN seems obvious. Why should a medium, or even a small business, make the switch?

They will also be able to benefit from increased flexibility and streamlined processes. But that’s just one side of it. SDN technology makes our offering highly modular. In short, we have kept the base module component (with the access) for each location separate from the service component, by that I mean, the associated services (such as office networking, Internet, security, public WLAN, PBX, VolP and TV). The customer can opt for any combination of components, and add or remove them, which naturally makes them more efficient. This type of efficiency can be seen throughout entire SDN offering. The customer can organise their network and services extremely flexible over the dashboard – and that, all in real time.

Swisscom is one of the first providers in the world to massively invest in the telco cloud and can offer its customers virtualised services. This guarantees that new and existing services will go hand in hand. Enterprise Connect allows network service functions to be adjusted at the touch of a button. The new service will first be available for smaller network locations.

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“The main advantage of SDN lies in its agility.”

So, money isn’t the main motivation for switching to SDN?

That’s right. The main advantage of SDN lies in its agility. For example, a new location can be accessed in 3 or 4 days, and a new service within minutes. That used to take weeks.

That’s a doubtful advantage: it usually takes months to get a location up and running. The planning for the network is not of so much consequence as a part of it. Could you provide a few more examples?

We have lots of customers who update the software on their workstations centrally and require extra bandwidth when they do so. The agility lies in the fact that the customer can pre-order the bandwidth they need for a specific date, and only pay for the time used. Or perhaps they want to integrate an external partner. The customer goes to the dashboard and makes the appropriate firewall settings, which are then ready in a few minutes.

In specific terms, that means that the network administrators have a lot of process-oriented work to do. They have to know which processes have an impact on the network and convert that knowledge into specific instructions.

Absolutely. It doesn't just affect the network administrators, however, but also the marketing and business departments, since they have to formulate the requirements.

Does that mean there will be greater cooperation between departments that had little to do with one another previously?

Yes, that is changing significantly at the moment. Today, marketing experts order an app or service and the IT department turns it into reality. They no longer ask if it would actually be possible first. That is subject to both groups talking to each other in detail, of course.

Are we ultimately talking about a paradigm shift in how people work with and in a network?

That is precisely how I see it. The network and services are increasingly becoming powerful enablers for business processes.

Do the customers know that?

No, in the end, not all customers are aware of this. Often, the financial aspect is the main factor. However, most customers very quickly notice that SDN changes much more than just the figures in the budget.

The fact is, though, that network infrastructure is very expensive. In purely financial terms, is it really worth switching to SDN?

That’s a valid question. All technology comes to the end of its useful life. That represents the perfect opportunity to think about switching, particularly when a WAN, LAN or WLAN is concerned. Whether it pays off financially need to be clarified in detail, of course. If the customer maintains a network department, the TCO (total cost of ownership) will certainly be a topic.

Can customers who want to source their infrastructure and the services they need from the cloud still do without SDN?

Yes, they can. But, then again, it is already clear that Swisscom is going to interleave its SDN and cloud services. In the next few months, it will already be possible to establish a cloud connection directly from an SDN dashboard. With an optional firewall in between, of course. Our network solution is a central hub, which combines all of Swisscom’s platforms and those from other providers.

So, let’s be specific here. Once the network infrastructure has reached the end of its useful life, what can the customer expect?

First, we take a look at the entire infrastructure with the customer, including the hidden costs which also have to be taken into account, so that we can make a serious evaluation.

What is the scale of a project like that?

It depends on whether they are already a Swisscom customer. Thanks to the hub I mentioned above, our customers can use new and existing services simultaneously without any problems, even if they are not on the same network. That guarantees a seamless migration to SDN.

The issue of security is an increasingly important topic in the network. Are there any customers who are afraid of losing control of their data as a result of SDN?

Yes, we have already had these discussions. The question every customer has to ask is, “What can I do better than the security experts at Swisscom?” We employ people who know the topic in depth and deal with nothing else. Most companies normally can't afford staff like that.

Let’s take a look at the future: where will SDN be in 5 years’ time?

When it comes to WANs, SDN is already a mature technology. The technology is not yet widely used in LANs. Compared to the international competition, Swisscom is already very far advanced, but there is still room to grow. For example, there are no SDN standards for LANs. For example, combining two SDN networks if both have different facilitators is very complicated.

When will the standard be introduced?

That is likely to take two or three years.

Why is SDN technology for WANs so much further advanced than for LANs?

It’s partly because WANs are typically a provider service. Furthermore, SDL technology offered huge cost-saving potential from the outset, particularly for WANs. Today, a customer can operate an Internet link between two locations in parallel to the expensive MPLS link. With SDN, the customer controls what data flows over what line. This ability to optimise drives the development of SDN for WANs forward.

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