Interoperability a Cornerstone of Today’s OPEN Networks
ECI recently participated in the EANTC Interoperability Showcase in Paris at MPLS+SDN+NFV World 2016. Interoperability showcases have long been a widely accepted practice in the telecommunications industry, but when considering the immense commitment in time, resources and manpower required of vendors one may wonder why. In a word, OPENNESS.
Openness is a popular word today in networking in many different contexts, some of which are more impactful than others. A variety of vendors and operators are touting openness: software openness, hardware openness and simple generic openness – each with a different definition of open. There are open source controllers like ONOS and OpenDaylight, open interfaces like OpenFlow and NETCONF, and open models like YANG being developed and touted by vendors and network operators. In fact openness has always been a goal of the OSI network model, at least at the basic protocol layers, via conformance to industry standards ranging from asynchronous networking (DS1/E1) to synchronous networking (SONET/SDH) to packet networking (ATM, Ethernet, IP, etc.).
While openness has been promoted in the past via standards, the recent trend towards more openness in management protocols, software-defined networking, and functional virtualization has the potential to finally realize the goal of a truly flexible multi-vendor, multi-technology network.
When discussing openness in modern networks, recent topics often focus on higher layer and operations innovations in SDN and NFV. SDN and NFV are important innovations in network technology, and their contributions to an open network cannot be understated. However, it is important to remember that open SDN/NFV networks still require interoperability at the lower layers to operate. Standards for Layers 1 through 3 are set, but implementations can vary from vendor to vendor. This variability is why interoperability showcases such as the one performed by the EANTC are still vitally important to developing open networks.
Since the early days of SONET/SDH networks, network operators have understood that deploying equipment from two or more vendors with standards-compliant equipment does not guarantee that all functionality will ‘interoperate’. Standards bodies intentionally leave open implementation choices to allow innovation, and vendors will often include proprietary functionality to address holes in the current standards sets. These implementation choices and additional functionalities at the lower layers can impede information flow at the base layer, as well as higher layer virtualization and multi-vendor coordination across an application aware network.
One of the major promises of SDN-based, truly open networks is that providers can mix and match hardware and software from a variety of vendors to deploy a best of breed, tailor made network. True SDN requires multi-vendor operation, as a “controller” that only controls functionality on a single-vendor network is just an enhanced EMS with the usual vendor lock-in issues that SDN is supposed to solve. Significant efforts are being put into making the controller interface - and even the controller itself - open so that network operators have multiple choices for flexible network design. However, all of those promises fall apart if the underlying network protocols do not interoperate.
ECI has made a deliberate decision to support openness at all layers of the network as part of its development philosophy. Whether via open interfaces, open architectures, open source, or ecosystems at all layers – ECI takes OPENNESS seriously. While ensuring complete openness will take some time, ECI is taking the necessary steps to ensure that customers have a choice from day one.
For example: ECI’s next generation LightCONTROL™ SDN controller is based on ONOS with an OpenDaylight version also being developed. ECI’s packet-optical transport portfolio supports open interfaces like OpenFlow. ECI’s LightAPPS™ SDN applications are designed to run in a multi-vendor environment. ECI’s LightSOFT® network management system includes a generic EMS feature which enables seamless integration of 3rd party elements. ECI is fully committed to interoperability – so much so that showcasing that interoperability in open forums such as the EANTC showcase is a given.
ECI’s NPT-1800, a member of the Neptune family of multi-service packet transport platforms, was integrated into the EANTC Interoperability Showcase alongside equipment of routing players such as Cisco, Juniper, Ericsson, and Huawei. The functionality demonstrated at the showcase utilized only a small fraction of the full capabilities of the NPT-1800, which includes advanced functionality for cost-optimized, multi-service packet transport, supporting delivery of both packet and TDM-based services over a converged packet infrastructure. ECI will continue to take part in future interoperability testing at public and private events as we continues to demonstrate our commitment to openness.
As networks and networking protocols continue to evolve and mature, interoperability events such as the EANTC Showcase and others are critical to guarantee basic functional interworking across vendors. It is important for network operators to be assured that the equipment that they are designing into their networks will interoperate at the fundamental protocol layers before they start designing networks that can interwork at the software-defined and virtualized function layer. As part of ECI’s commitment to openness, the ECI portfolio will continue to ensure openness at all layers of the network.