Virtualization goes international

Software defined networks (SDN) and network functions (NFV) are key technologies driving scaling at the enterprise and application level. Virtualization is extending its reach into and Internet of Things () applications as well. I caught up with Patrick Blesso, Senior Manager, Product Portfolio at , about their international virtualization strategy and how it can extend reach and lower cost of delivering network services.

Virtualization primer

Virtualization is based on the premise that all functional systems boil down into common compute, storage, and network resources. In the networking world, network architectures are the starting point for deploying wired and networks. Interfaces and functional components are defined. Once the reference architecture is established, equipment manufacturers develop the components that implement these functions and interfaces using fixed-function hardware.

Over the past 5 years, the networking world has taken a page out of the enterprise virtualization playbook. Instead of creating all these fixed-function hardware components, functions have been abstracted away from purpose-built hardware and have become software-only functions (i.e., “virtualized”). These virtualized functions simply require an abstracted interface to compute, storage and network resources. This network virtualization paradigm has dramatically changed the economics and development execution of network infrastructure. Virtualization has started becoming a mainstream feature of networks. Ericsson and Nokia currently have products that virtualize the LTE mobile infrastructure MME, signaling gateway (S-GW) and packet gateway (P-GW) functions. Ericsson has publicly announced that they intend to have their entire LTE portfolio virtualized by the end of 2016.

Virtualization is taking hold in the networking world. However, its reach isn’t limited to wireless infrastructure. A number of router, voice over IP (VoIP) session border controller (SBC), and cable network providers are also virtualizing network functions within their networks as well.

GlobeNet’s take on virtualization

GlobeNet is a submarine network operator providing wholesale transport services in Latin and North America. Globenet provides network capacity to ISPs in Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. These ISPs need ways to extend their reach in the US, but capital expense challenges to manage deployment, needed licenses, and US taxes are major roadblocks to these initiatives. Likewise, providers in the US have significant interest in extending their services to Latin and South America. These providers are willing to connect to specific Internet exchange points, but are faced the same challenges.

Geographic reach, increased capacity

GlobeNet’s international virtualization architecture includes virtual routers located in Miami, New York, and Sao Paulo, which allows customers to expand network reach, improve performance, aggregate international capacity, and manage the connections to peering fabrics. These routers become an integral part of customers’ networks for the extended delivery of their service offering. Transport services between international locations are also available as part of the offering.

Management capabilities are also provided, which allow customers to manage their network architecture and capacity upgrades as needed. Basic engineering services are provided by GlobeNet so customers can quickly manage and control their extended network.

Scalability is a critical aspect for these international providers from a geographic reach and capacity standpoint. In a recent GlobeNet press release, Erick Contag, President and Chief Executive Officer said, “Carriers and ISPs need to present additional value to their customers in order to stand out in the competitive global telecommunications market. Virtualization enhances any customer network by expanding it to critical global points of presence without having to invest in the deployment of a subsea fiber system or purchase expensive equipment.”

Under the hood

GlobeNet leverages Juniper hardware to deploy their virtualization services, which can enable customers such as ISPs, Internet exchanges, and tier 1 providers.

“We chose Juniper routers because of the performance and latency benchmarks they offer,” Patrick Blesso said. “The infrastructure is internalized into the customer networks. In addition to the increased capacity, we offer management of routers, ports, upgrades, and protocols, so operating within this extended virtual environment can adhere to the same availability and reliability standards they currently operate within.”

The physical infrastructure is shared, but logically segmented across the customer base. When virtual routers are spun up, they make ports available to customers according to their bandwidth needs. These router instances can be scaled up and down to optimize power and capacity.

Security is another important aspect of the environment. “There are distributed denial of service (DDoS) mitigation capabilities within the infrastructure. Router spin-up and configuration is also controlled through a secure (VPN). Once the router is brought up, the customer can configure restrictions for port access and bring the virtual environment into their security domain,” Blesso said.

The business model for service providers is attractive – they can dip their toe into international markets without having to outlay large amounts of capital expense to determine if their strategy is a good one. Getting bandwidth and access as a service provides for an incremental entry into other regions.

There are adopters utilizing this virtual environment today. A tier 1 provider in Colombia is using the GlobeNet platform and is successfully managing their extended network in Colombia and the US. They are currently using multiple 10 GbE in total bandwidth.

Summary

Virtualization has historically been used to scale web applications across multiple server platforms in a data center. GlobeNet is an example of leveraging virtualization to extend geographic reach and increase service areas without requiring a large capital expense. Early adopters are successfully extending their geographic reach while still effectively managing their combined physical and virtual network. The virtual network environment enables GlobeNet to focus in the areas of transport and increased security, which can help network operators extend reach while still providing high reliability services.