BT Exploring Open Data Center Switch Tech to Transform Its Network

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

August 17, 2017

2 Min Read
Graeme Robertson/Getty Images

The British telco giant BT is kicking off a research project together with Dell EMC to see how effective open network switches you’d normally see in places like Facebook or Microsoft data centers would be for delivering telecommunications services.

The two companies are building a proof-of-concept at BT Labs in Adastral Park, a science campus near Ipswitch, England, to validate the approach to managing telco traffic using open switches that can run specialized software not written specifically for a particular piece of hardware – a departure from the traditional tightly-integrated hardware-software solutions that have powered telco networks for decades.

The overall concept is frequently referred to as “disaggregated switching.” Pioneered by hyper-scale data center operators, it is thought to be less expensive than buying specialized hardware from networking equipment giants – Dell EMC notwithstanding – and allow for more flexibility to create custom functionality. The drawback is that implementing it requires lots of engineering resources, which is something the internet giants have in droves.

See also: Facebook Makes Open Source Networking a Reality

BT (as do other telcos) views this software-defined networking technology as a way to make its network more flexible and easy to manage, using Network Functions Virtualization to replace expensive physical appliances, such as firewalls and routers, with software functions that run on commodity, or merchant, silicon. The overall promise is to make buying and using telco services somewhat similar to the way companies buy and use cloud services by the likes of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, while reducing the cost and complexity of managing the network for the operator.

According to a Dell EMC announcement released this week, potential use cases the proof-of-concept will explore include:

  • Instant activation of Ethernet circuits from a third party (such as an enterprise)

  • Ability of the system to deliver real-time network operational data

  • Bandwidth calendaring – flexing the bandwidth of an Ethernet circuit according to customer need via a predetermined calendar

  • Delivering network telemetry data to third parties automatically

BT has been providing software defined WAN (SD-WAN) services for a couple years, but it’s been relying on partners like Cisco and Nuage for the technology.

US-based telco giants Verizon and AT&T have been transforming their networks in this new way for some time now, and both view it as essential to enabling the upcoming 5G wireless standard, considered crucial to the success of next-generation applications such as the Internet of Things (including self-driving cars) and virtual and augmented reality.

Verizon’s efforts in this area took an interesting turn earlier this week, when the company announced a partnership with AWS to provide virtual network services on the giant’s cloud to help customers manage connectivity between their infrastructure and the cloud.

See also: What’s Behind AT&T’s Big Bet on Edge Computing

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