SDN and OpenFlow improve broadband deployment

Broadband deployment is time-consuming and complicated, but SDN and OpenFlow could change that. Networking expert Nick Buraglio explains.

Anyone who has ever operated broadband ISP services at any scale knows customer provisioning is time-consuming,...

and a close second to help desk calls when it comes to tedium and repetition. Set aside the obvious pain involved in manning, operating and maintaining high levels of customer service with a tier 1 triage/help desk. Simply provisioning customer premises equipment (CPE) and handling associated details such as routing, filtering, address management and security filtering can quickly become a complex affair.

Take, for example, the burgeoning fiber to the home deployments popping up throughout the U.S. In many cases, these are municipal-owned or not-for-profit -- homegrown systems with very little operational manpower and budgets, which don't take into account the need for a highly trained engineering staff.

Management systems are either developed in-house -- in which case, they are likely inefficient and poorly maintained -- or are part of a commercial broadband provisioning system. The latter may boast a reassuringly high price tag, but probably also has limited functionality, inflexibility outside of simple operating parameters, and vendor lock-in.

The most common tasks include:

     •        New customer turn-up and provisioning

     •        Troubleshooting problematic connectivity to CPE

     •        Provisioning of additional resources

                     ◦         IP allocations

                     ◦         Adjustments of filters

                     ◦         Class-of-service augmentation

SDN and OpenFlow offer a better way

SDN, and OpenFlow in particular, provide a standard, straightforward mechanism for dealing with each of these common tasks. They allow best practice filtering -- such as BCP38 (disallowing spoofing) -- to occur very close to the resource (as opposed to at the network egress, where it should already be occurring) as an easy value-add, and without the clunky access control lists that some platforms require.

In addition to all of the operational value granted in the broadband arena, consider the extensive data analytics and instrumentation that SDN and OpenFlow afford. The protocol exposes a rich set of analytics and data to the controller, including transmitted packets, dropped packets, received packets, bytes, CRC errors, frame errors, collisions and all of the other data useful for troubleshooting. All of this is accessible to the controllers, which could, in some cases, allow for one less operational system and the removal of legacy SNMP graphing tools. On some platforms, sFlow is also available, providing IPv4 and IPv6 statistics at a more granular level.

While the technology may still be a little new and the hype a bit on the high side, there are real use cases for SDN and OpenFlow in last-mile broadband networks, and I'll be surprised if products offering this and in-house built systems don't start taking advantage.

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This was last published in October 2015

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