Kicking off the SDN Federated Test bed: the whys

At the Hub inauguration on Sept 2014, setting the base for the activities to be carried out by the Hub. A year after that the SDN federated test bed is kicked off.

Today, September 22nd, EIT Digital is kicking off the SDN Federated Test Bed Initiative from its hub in San Francisco.  We have been working for quite some time in preparing for this. It is actually a quilt composed by several tiles that strengthen one another.

I'll come back to this but in this post I would like to socialise the reasons that led to today's kick off.

SDN, Software Defined Network (or Networking, depending on who you are talking to), is a way to increase the flexibility of networks, seen as a way to cut cost (from an Operator point of view that can better exploit its capital investment in network equipment and decrease operational cost) or as a way to tailor network functionality to a specific service (from a user point of view).

There is plenty of network equipment, coming in different hues and from different manufacturers, deployed and operated in different ways depending on the network and the network Operator. There are also two main approaches at creating flexibility, one that is spearheaded by Europeans/Far East Asian and the other by Americans. It is not a clear cut division, there are different shades of grey in between and some EU companies may prefer the US approach and viceversa.

The area of future networks is, probably for the first time since telecommunications started about 150 years ago, ripe for innovation coming from small and big companies alike. It was not so: in all these years the thresholds to enter the telecom arena was so high that only big companies could afford the investment and had the lever to bring innovation to the market.

The relentless increase in processing power and the decrease in cost has shifted the balance between what can be done in the network and what can be done at the edges, in the terminals (smartphones and computers). At the same time what used to be specialised equipment in the network is becoming an everyday computer differentiated only by its software.

Hence the possibility for new control architectures and much more flexible use of resources is becoming viable both technically and economically.

However, the gap between what is possibile and what becomes reality is significant. Several organisations are at work to fill this gap. 

EIT Digital, thanks to its broad partnership, its close ties with the EU and now its hub in San Francisco, wants to be a major player. We have been addressing Future Networks from the very beginning and being a key player in making SDN a reality is just the natural way to go.

Clearly, it is crucial to add value to the ones already provided by our partnership, and do so without stepping in the way of what they are already doing. 

The value of a federated test bed, run by an independent organisation, is providing a neutral level field for any party to experiment their ideas, products and services in an environment that is heterogeneous. This is particularly valuable for small enterprises and start ups, the ones that are most likely to take out of the blue approaches leading to disruptive innovation but that do not have the means to interact with the big players nor to develop mock ups of their networks.

At the same time, the big players have the opportunity of seeing the effects of these potential innovations and get ready or even foster their deployment. In a way it is a risk free path to innovation for them.

We have recently seen our bid for a federated European test bed approved by the EU and we will get the activities started in February 2016. Moreover we are now harvesting results from our 2015 activity "SDN at the Edges" and will be funding a 2016 activity to create a Certification Centre for SDN. All of this is coming together, along with previous results obtained both in EIT Digital projects in previous years as well as our Partners results obtained in EU cooperative projects. 
Actually, for the very start of the federated SDN Test Bed we will leverage on software developed in these projects, software that will be adapted and integrated by researchers that will be moving to San Francisco from Italy first and soon after from Germany. But this is intended to be an "open club" and we are welcoming other parties to join and strengthen the test bed.

The ambition is to create an environment, both hardware and software, for experimentation as well as to use it to support some initiatives like the ones on IoT (see next post) and Smart Cities where flexibility is a crucial factor of success.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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