Towards Programmable Networks

Publications - April 2018

The demand for new services that are faster, available anywhere and at anytime has led communications service providers (CSP) to build networks that are enormously large. Today, even modest networks consist of hundreds of thousands of network elements. Managing a modern communications network is a challenge and service providers are looking for ways to simplify operations and reduce costs. The complexity of managing a network at scale comes from three main sources:

    • Diversity of network equipment — As CSPs move up the value chain to offer more services, so too do the type of network devices. CSPs now offer services that range from Layer 2 (Carrier Ethernet) to Layer 7 (e.g. firewalls, load balancers), which means deployment of switches, routers and application servers in the network. Provisioning a single service touches a large number of network elements with different capabilities.
    • Difference in intended versus actual network state – With a diverse set of network equipment with varying capabilities, keeping the configuration and operational state of the network in sync is a monumental task. CLI-based state management, which has been dominant in the industry for decades, is error prone and scripts need to be manually scrubbed as new features are introduced. Given that a single service configuration affects multiple network elements, failure at a single device can lead to an inconsistent network state.
    • Lack of standard interfaces — In an effort to differentiate their products and gain competitive advantage, network equipment vendors “lock in” customers with proprietary interfaces. Vendors have resisted wholesale standardization for even decades-old technologies, and adherence to common interfaces remains severely lacking.

CSPs want to reduce the time and cost to integrate new equipment and services. Period. This can only be accomplished if equipment is amenable to automation.

At Collinear, our vector of differentiation is high capacity over longer distances. We have built a flexible solution that uses NETCONF to support network wide transactions and exposes the device data model programmatically. This allows automation tools to discover equipment capability and keep the network state in sync with intended configuration. While management standards and data models are still evolving in the microwave space, we are doing our part to support networks of the future.

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