Software Defined Networks Could Revolutionize Submarine Network Cable Architecture

Software Defined Networks

Software Defined Network (SDN) architecture is gaining greater market acceptance as one of the best ways to extend capabilities across networks to meet worldwide demand for more network capacity. SDNs make the network programmable by separating the network from the physical control, thereby reducing delivery costs and enabling flexible routing and provisioning, faster content delivery and automation, application deployment and cloud enablement.

More and more, SDNs are being incorporated to extend network functionality beyond the physical layer. In a 2014 Infonetics Research survey of 153 medium and large companies, 87 percent said they were planning to go live with SDNs in the data center environment by 2016 in order to improve management capabilities. International Data Corporation (IDC) confirms the growing interest in SDN, predicting global utilization of SDN will reach $8 billion by 2018.

Network as a Service (NaaS)

True flexibility is gained when SDN functionality is combined with self-provisioning on an open source architected platform to enable a Network as a Service (NaaS) environment of interconnected clouds in a cohesive data center-to-data center solution. This allows customers to shape their traffic needs between locations using submarine and network capacity dynamically to the edge.

The next progression in SDN architecture is to place the same capability directly in the core network.  This way, submarine cables can become part of the solution to the cloud. By creating a flexible pricing schedule and usage-based solutions on a self-service platform, providers create additional value and opportunities that do not necessarily cannibalize existing revenue models, which is a concern to many operators. Instead, by enabling self-provisioning at the network layer, the network truly becomes a service offering. It’s this service orientation, using the core network itself to move up the stack and integrate layers through self-service and intelligent orchestration, which creates new and interesting ways to increase the flexibility of cable assets while benefiting customers.

Mobile Data

It’s inevitable that ever increasing bandwidth demand in the age of the digital world economy will drive change in the way network architecture is designed and configured. This creates a best-case solution for improved asset use through SDN deployment, particularly when considering the following:

  • The mobile data traffic sector grew by 497 million mobile devices and connections last year.
  • Mobile data capacity reached 2.5 exabytes worldwide for the month of December.
  • By 2018, Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) will be carrying more than half of all Internet traffic.
  • Worldwide mobile payments are expected to grow to 47 billion transactions through 2015.
  • Gartner predicts 25 billion connected devices will be part of the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2020.

Greater capacity is needed for the APAC region and beyond. In China alone, international bandwidth grew from 1.9 Tbps to 3.4 Tbps in 2013, representing an 80 percent increase in demand. At the same time, India’s international bandwidth demand grew from 695 Gbps to 1.2 Tbps, representing a 75 percent increase during the same period. Other growing markets for increased Internet demand, such as South America and the African intercontinental route, indicate there are more opportunities ahead.

Legacy networks were not designed to handle the content delivery demand that network providers find themselves grappling with today. SDN architecture can provide new growth opportunities for providers interested in taking control of assets by dynamically configuring networks to alleviate bandwidth and capacity issues.

Global Data Delivery

Today, 97 percent of global data traffic is carried between continents and countries over submarine fiber cables, which as of December 2013 provided total transoceanic bandwidth capacity of 87 Tbps.

Submarine fiber capacity is upgradeable beyond its original design, and there are enough cables in the APAC region and elsewhere to handle ongoing capacity needs. In fact, it’s much more common today for telecom providers to deploy 100G networks and upgrades over submarine cables to supply additional bandwidth. This allows carriers to handle growing backhaul and capacity needs at a lower cost.  In addition, network owners and equipment vendors are partnering together more often, adding new routes to ensure elasticity for cloud computing needs, as well as redundancy, resiliency and additional capacity.

By extending SDN functionality to encompass the data center and submarine cable architecture, providers can virtualize the inter- and the intra-data center, and cloud and data center networks, which allows network owners to play over the top and gain more revenue from existing assets. Likewise, network providers who have control over data center assets can dynamically provision SDN and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) with fewer constraints than operators with fixed cables or a consortium of network providers can achieve. Because SDN is available over open source, vendors can partner with Service Providers to develop new ways to integrate and improve technology to build a customer engaging solution.

A unified approach to network and service management enables better provisioning of service while accommodating on-demand transport bandwidth through a single interface for a seamless customer experience. Together with the advance of 100G transmission rates, capacity can be extended cost-effectively to handle the demand, offering providers operational efficiency gains and faster service delivery speeds.

Software Defined Network architecture is gaining greater market share because it provides a flexible and agile platform to extend network capabilities beyond the physical layer. SDNs offer a cost-effective way for carriers to gain the maximum value from installed submarine cable assets, while putting the bounce back into cables with a new service-oriented approach that unties the underlying value of network assets.

By Andy Lumsden, Chief Technology Officer, Pacnet

Based in Hong Kong, Andy Lumsden leads efforts to maintain Pacnet’s technology leadership with next generation network platforms and infrastructure for managed services.  He previously served as Pacnet’s Vice President of Engineering and was responsible for developing Pacnet’s submarine cable network architecture. 

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