Kathy Gibson reports from the XON/NEC Summit – XON is offering a locally-developed environment that will let network operators offer their customers virtual software-defined network (SDN) services on-demand.

The system will let end user customers simply select networking services from a catalogue. They will be automatically provisioned and deployed, giving users all the benefits of an SDN without having to invest in any physical infrastructure at all.

Anthony Laing, chief strategy officer of XON, explains that the company has a history of finding the best technology around the world, bringing it to Africa, and building the skills to support it.

“We wanted to do the same thing with SDN,” he says.

Juniper, which is represented in South Africa by XON, recently bought Contrail for its SDN technology, and opened the technology up to the open source community. Laing says this brought in a lot of support for the system, and allowed the development community to build solutions on Contrail.

The move co-incided with a change in customer attitudes. “A couple of years ago people wanted to have a physical device,” Laing explains. “Now it’s the exact opposite: they want a virtual appliance and they like the idea of open source.”

SDN means that all the different appliances that used to run services on the network are now replaced with virtual services that can be provided when they’re needed, and scale to fit the need.

“This means that the network operators are not simply reselling the connection, but can offer their customers a much more value-added services,” Laing says. “So instead of a dumb pipe, they can provide services like firewalls and deep packet inspection. What they offer becomes more than a connection, but an intelligent connection.

“It changes the dynamics of the market as it’s no longer just about price, but the services that can go on top of the network.”

Xon has built the solution using standardised cost-effective x86 servers and the Contrail technology, adding an orchestration layer that it built itself and which allows customers to choose services that are then automatically provisioned.

Importantly, the orchestration layer ensures that all parts of the system are integrated, so while services are automatically enabled, billing also happens automatically on a true pay-as-you-go model.

“We are basically giving our customers a product catalogue of services they can sell on to their customers, Laing says. “They will be instantly provisioned and appear as an additional line item on their bill.”

The service means that companies no longer have to consider a three-year return on investment from their technology investments, but can switch to a pure month-by-month opex model.

Laing stresses that the orchestration layer was developed in South Africa by the team at XON, and is particularly suited to the African market.

“What we are doing is unique globally, and it’s been developed by our team of five people in Johannesburg. “The solution includes components from Open Stack, the networking portion of Contrail and our locally-developed orchestration layer.”

Network operators can resell services provisioned from XON’s existing cloud data centre housed at Teraco in Isando; or they could build their own cloud operation and licence the technology.

Although the primary end user customers are enterprises with fixed line networks, the technology could scale to smaller businesses or even the domestic market in the future.

The service is available now, and XON is currently working with several customers on production trials, with commercial deployments expected before the end of the year.

Laing adds that this solution is particularly well suited in the African context due to the high cost of bandwidth as well as the fact that companies don’t require skilled network professionals to be able to deploy a wealth of value-added services.