Alcatel compares VSP's operation to cellular roaming, which begins when a cellphone identifies itself to a carrier when it's turned on in a new location. Based on the phone's identity and the subscriber's service plan, the carrier then makes the right services available to that phone in the new location.
With VSP, when a VM is moved from one physical server to another, a Virtual Routing and Switching (VRS) agent on the server will detect the change and collect information about the VM. The VRS will tell the Virtual Services Controller about the newly arrived VM, and the controller will refer to the Virtual Services Directory for the correct routing, switching and security settings for it, said Lindsay Newell, head of marketing for Alcatel's Networks and Platforms group. For example, a given VM might be set to communicate only with other VMs from the same business unit.
Where most SDN platforms can only control Layer 2 switching, VSP can also modify Layer 3 routing settings and Layer 4 security filters, eliminating more manual configuration steps, Newell said. It sets up direct virtual tunnels between VMs and makes networks 40 percent more efficient, according to Alcatel.
VSP can even set up tunnels across a carrier's IP network, taking advantage of standard MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) and again staying compatible with existing infrastructure, Newell said. This capability can be useful for hybrid clouds, in which a carrier's cloud resources supplement an enterprise's own private cloud during peak activity times, Newell said.
Service providers are already asking for virtualization systems that will span networks and data centers, Infonetics' Howard said.
"There's a boundary between the data center and the WAN," Howard said. Today, those two resources are typically built and operated by different groups and carriers can't even view them as a single infrastructure, let alone manage them together, he said. They're hoping for faster service deployment, which could boost their revenue, and more efficient operation in the form of making sure service agreements are being met and their resources are being used well, he said.
Alcatel's timeline for putting VSP onto the market is aggressive. The technology will enter trials later this month at a few customers, including French carrier SFR, British cloud service provider Exponential-e and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Then, in the middle of this year, VSP will become generally available worldwide, the company said. The fact that there's no new hardware to test or manufacture makes this possible, Newell said.
There's still much to be proved in network virtualization, because the technologies are complex and real-world networks come in many shapes and sizes, according to Gartner's Skorupa. Specific users will try to implement SDN in environments that were never dreamed of in labs, he said.
"Once you turn it loose, only then do you really begin to get thorough testing," Skorupa said.
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