Focus – Viva virtualization! The growing trend of SDN in enterprises

Tullia Zanni – Head of Solution Marketing, Management and Offering

May 31, 2017 – From data centers to network infrastructure, the flexibility that virtualization can guarantee is now so well-known that shifting towards a software approach is becoming a widespread phenomenon. Cloud computing, Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking are all changing telco infrastructures, leveraging the concept of virtualization and software typically found in traditional IT environments. This is also true for communication services providers’ and large enterprises’ networks.

In particular, SDN is increasingly being deployed in large enterprises, especially in specific applications that provide a proven benefit in the short term. This comes from the need for companies to be more efficient and flexible; new services adoption could represent a business accelerator.

Previously many have been held back from launching these new services due to budget constraints but SDN adoption brings agility to traditional networks, improving services as a result of the mutual awareness between applications and underlying networks. The communication between the network and upper-layer applications becomes bidirectional, resource usage is always under control and infrastructure management becomes easy and cost-effective.

A use case for the enterprise: how to manage Quality of Experience

Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C) services are strategic applications for every company, enabling a smarter way to work and collaborate. The adoption of video UC&C applications is also crucial for the business development of enterprises with offices across the world.

Being able to apply suitable policies to shape the consumption of network resources, not only according to their availability but also to users’ needs, is today a pressing requirement for enterprises. An SDN approach enables centralized and more flexible control of the IP network and provides IT managers a feasible way to dynamically manage high Quality of Experience (QoE) services, particularly in a multi-vendor environment, via a controller-based infrastructure, improving service adoption and usage.

Multiple UC&C services, together with other high priority applications, often share the same network resources, with each application being unaware of traffic generated by other applications, mixing on the same IP network real time communications traffic with internet traffic or other data.
As a result, traditional approaches for managing QoS and traffic prioritization are no longer adequate for delivering a high QoE. Bandwidth consumption has a great variability, static network engineering is difficult and applications have policy rules that don’t take real time network usage into account as they do not have visibility on real network state.

To address QoE challenges, Italtel’s approach leverages the concept of SDN with the related possibility to mesh up network level with application level.

The DAC approach

Bridging the gap between application needs and network resource availability, Italtel has developed a Dynamic Admission Control (DAC) solution. This enables dynamic tuning of Call Admission Control (CAC) rules and application prioritization, taking into account business needs and real-time network status at the same time. The result is the best QoE for multi-technology UC&C applications in a multi-site enterprise context, enabling smart usage of connectivity services.

Most UC&C applications already include a CAC feature that stops users from placing sessions when there is insufficient network bandwidth within the corresponding Class of Service to support these sessions (typically voice and video applications). Admission control rules typically rely on an application-level static accounting model of the network which is unable to respond to real time business needs or dynamic network changes.

Italtel’s expertise and long track record in the development and integration of large-scale telecommunications infrastructure enables a solution like DAC to significantly increase the return on investment that many companies seek for their IP voice and video assets. Our DAC solution is based on an accurate and up-to-date view of the physical network topology which enables dynamic tuning of CAC rules and application prioritization according to real time network status.

Netwrapper

The engine of the DAC Solution is Netwrapper, a powerful SDN application that “wraps” network and services (applications) to enable a fruitful harmonization between them.

Built on top of Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure Controller Enterprise module (Cisco APIC-EM), Netwrapper is the outcome of the strong cooperation between Italtel and Cisco around Cisco’s DNA architecture and automation concepts.

Netwrapper provides IT managers with a unique tool for mapping UC&C service topology with enterprise IP network topology. The bandwidth needs of UC&C applications are compared with actual bandwidth usage and service provider bandwidth Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Call admission bandwidth parameters and QoS marking can be dynamically changed to match the available network resources with application requirements.

To make this possible, Netwrapper interacts with:

• APIC-EM, in order to gather all the information from the IP infrastructure (topology, flow path trace, BW stats) and to rule dynamically QoS marking policies. The interaction is based on REST API.

• CUCM, in order to gather all the information about UC&C services (service topology, audio and video call admission control bandwidth parameters, real time service bandwidth usage) and to dynamically implement changes to bandwidth parameters inside the CAC configuration. This interaction is based on specific service API and provisioning interface.

After undergoing a technical certification process, Italtel completed Cisco’s SolutionPlus program and is currently a “SolutionPlus” partner for the Netwrapper application, which is now available in the Cisco catalogue. This enables a one-stop ordering experience for Cisco’s customers, channel partners and sales teams for selected third-party products and applications.

The “human interaction” of Italtel Netwrapper

The Netwrapper system offers an innovative interaction mode based on the concept of social communication, i.e. the use of chat systems and, in particular, Cisco Spark.

Italtel engineers taught Netwrapper to use human language through a chatbot – an Artificial Intelligence software that simulates a conversation between robots and human beings.

They then gave Netwrapper the ability to access Spark, a social collaboration platform developed by Cisco. ICT managers can therefore “chat” with Netwrapper through chatbots.

“Human Interaction” allows Netwrapper to interpret requests and – if necessary – ask questions to further clarify their context, perform the determined actions and finally provide answers in the chat.

This innovative feature of Netwrapper was first presented at Cisco Live! 2017 in Berlin.

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