Networking technology (including virtualisation) catches up with cloud innovations. Takeaways from the Beltug N-sight: 21 Jan 2020, 13h


Virtualisation is disrupting networks, with promises including increased flexibility, easier management, greater visibility into the network and more efficiency. So is it time to stop considering network virtualisation as ‘the future’, and bring it into your present?


In this session, we put the technology and its features under the microscope and explored the opportunities. With insight from the academic, expert and user perspectives, we learned about research into building improved network agility, and talked about different use cases and their specific topologies. Then we heard two cases – from Dell and Agfa – about their real-life experiences.


The presentations from the N-sight are available for our members (after login). 



Virtualisation for building future-proof network infrastructures


We started the session with the academic perspective.  Wouter Tavernier, Research Lead of the Fixed Internet Architectures and Optical Networks research group at UGent, challenged the audience: how long does it take to take down a network?  Less than 2 hours was the answer! In fact, in the 2017 Maersk case, the network was taken down in less than an hour.  This incident is now known as the most damaging cyber attack ever, with $10 billion in damage (slide 4).


You need to manage your devices as if they were code, using a 'DevOps’ mindset. Evolving from a 'culture of fear' (of change) towards a 'culture of change' will result in faster deployments from higher-performing teams.


In 2019, Gartner positioned SD-WAN as 'obsolete before plateau'.  Does this mean SD-WAN is dead? While SD-WAN certainly faces challenges, adoption of the SDN approach, as well as Wide Area Networks, is increasing in data centres. (slide 11) SD-WAN can be taken a step further in the concept of network virtualisation, where we decouple the control from the physical elements of the network (slide 12).


The 4th (and final block) in the process of 'softwarisation', is the dynamic orchestration of the entire process.  This 'orchestrator' works in a smart way with the different infrastructure controllers (computing, network, physical, etc.).


To bring theory into practice, Wouter went over a few use cases Ugent has worked on with different partners (slides 17-25).


Wouter concluded that:

  • Networking technology is catching up with cloud innovation
  • Network virtualisation plays a key role in a larger picture of network automation
  • Potential use cases include: SD-WAN, vCPE, elastic virtualised security services, and any dynamically changing network environment, such as smart manufacturing.


Virtualised Network Services: how to define your use case, and select the right topology


Next, we zoomed in on the technology at hand with Hans Demarneffe, Business Strategy & Portfolio at Telenet, searching for how to define use cases within an organisation, and how to make the right choices.


Hans indicated 5 observable trends in our work world:

  • new technologies
  • the global village
  • changes in people's behaviour at work
  • the need for a more agile business environment
  • skill shortages and mismatches


These trends create new challenges for the enterprise network (slide 11). Bandwidth is another challenge, and cloud continues to be the key driver.  There is a virtuous circle of increased usage of cloud services driving greater digital transactions and higher bandwidths into virtualised storage.  So companies do need to upscale their bandwidth, yet in a cost-effective way. That is where SD-WAN and VNS comes in (slide 13).


There are 3 important choices to make. 

  • Which network functions?
  • Local vs. central?
  • Managed Services vs. DIY?


And don't forget to consider the bandwidth evolution of your organisation, and the agility needed for the next 5 years, Hans emphasised.


Finally, Hans gave us his takeaways on the key challenges to be addressed (slide 16).


Case: Dell IT virtualises its network


Mo Alloul, Network Sales Manager at Dell then took us through the first ‘real-life’ case of the day.  Dell acquired EMC in 2016, which resulted in a global network of 23 global data centres, 20K managed network devices, and more, he explained (slide 8).


This legacy WAN came with interesting challenges:

  • Increasing support of cloud applications
  • Complex WAN architectures
  • Infrastructure sprawl
  • Lack of automation
  • Costs


So Dell rolled out a WAN transformation programme (slide 7).  GTT Communications was one of their partners in this journey. As a start, all sites were mapped and catalogued into tiers (slide 9).


There are 3 solution components in the Dell virtualised network:


  • Purpose built hardware
  • Flexible deployment options
  • Zero-touch deployments
  • Suited for data centre, branch or cloud


  • Single pane of glass for management, configuration, and real-time monitoring
  • business policy abstraction
  • Restful APIs available


  • Optimised access to top SaaS / IaaS providers
  • Globally distributed network of service gateways at top-tier POPs
  • Fully managed & operated by VMWare


Mo gave us a high-level insight into the design of the network (slide 13).


The savings that can be expected from such a network virtualisation are numerous, Mo concluded:

  • Rate reductions from carrier consolidation
  • Reduced MPLS footprint at the branches & scaled-down head-ends
  • Reduced data centre WAN & Internet infrastructure
  • Lower carrier transport costs (internet vs MPLS)
  • Reduced recurring router maintenance
  • Lower TCO for equipment
  • Operational lifecycle support costs
  • Greater tolerance for organic traffic growth.


Case: Implementing an SD-WAN-based network at Agfa


Ronny Vaes, Network, Security, Cloud & Datacenter Services at Agfa, then took us through our second case of the day.  Before its transformation towards network virtualisation, Agfa ran a traditional, self-managed MPLS network for internal applications.  The internet connections (at 150+ sites) were managed by local providers, and provided a backup for the MPLS (slide 11).


Arriving at the end of the contract with MPLS vendor, Verizon, Agfa began looking into a different type of network. The first step was an inventory of requirements and considerations, including flexibility, Cloud SaaS applications, the connection to Agfa's R&D sites, which work closely together and requiring a significant bandwidth, etc. (slides 13 and 14).


Next came the selection of vendor:  Agfa chose to continue working with Verizon. Then came the decision matrix for which the tools to use.  The managed solution selected was implemented gradually: for instance, current, Agfa-managed internet connections as well as Fortinet firewalls, are being reused for the time being.


The current contract was been signed end 2018 (slide 16 has an overview of the current status). Of course, there were a few challenges in the process in different aspects of the project, in the rollout (switch-over of European sites), the stability (services were rebooted or restarted frequently) and performance (latency and bandwidth issues) (slides 17 and 18). Most are being solved or are already solved, but this process takes time.


The project will continue to evolve, as well: with VNS services, with even more sites where SD-WAN will be implemented, a move to VNS for the firewall, etc. (slide 19).


















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