NTT's global cloud services show what software-based networks can do

The carrier's NTT Communications unit is offering network services from its cloud using SDN and NFV

Instantly turning on carrier services, one of the big promises of software-based networks, is now a reality, according to NTT Communications.

The global enterprise networking arm of Japanese carrier NTT commercially launched cloud-based network services Thursday, saying customers can now activate capabilities such as firewalls and application acceleration at their branch offices and for remote users without buying any specialized hardware. This can cut ongoing costs in half and reduce setup time to just minutes, the company said.

Those services will run on NTT Communications' own infrastructure, including 50 local cloud networking centers serving different regions of the world, and an initial set of four such services is available immediately in the more than 190 countries that the company serves. The initial services are firewall, application acceleration, and IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) VPNs.

The cloud services take advantage of software-based technologies that could dramatically alter the way networks are built and used in the next several years. NTT Communications used both SDN (software-defined networking) and NFV (network functions virtualization) to create the virtual infrastructure on which its new services run. SDN encompasses a variety of technologies that typically shift network control from routers and switches to centralized software, and NFV moves network services from specialized equipment to applications on industry-standard servers.

The services will be part of the company's Arcstar Universal One services portfolio. It built the platform with cloud-based security and network virtualization technology acquired through its US$525 million buyout of Virtela Technology Services earlier this year. Also this year, the company acquired about 80 percent of U.S. data-center operator RagingWire for $350 million.

For the services that went live Thursday, NTT is using an in-house SDN and NFV platform, said Vab Goel, founder and chairman of Virtela.

A major goal of both SDN and NFV is to turn complex and time-consuming service activations into quick software changes, and NTT says its new platform does that. Enterprises will be able to activate the cloud-based services by themselves on a dashboard and then scale up those services as their needs grow at a particular location, said Takashi Ooi, vice president of Enterprise Network Service at NTT Communications. Going to the cloud also lets NTT establish new services more quickly to respond to changing enterprise needs, he said.

Customers will be able to activate and configure services on their own, have NTT Communications manage that process, or choose a hybrid approach, the company said. They will be charged per site for firewalls and application acceleration and per user for SSL VPNs, and can buy services singly or in a bundle.

In a typical case, using NTT's cloud-based firewall service might save a multinational enterprise from having to route all its traffic around the world to a firewall at its headquarters, or from buying and maintaining boxes at each branch site, Ooi said.

The company also claims its new agility lets it free enterprises from long-term contracts for services, a benefit that NTT Communications itself admitted probably won't be used too often. Because the add-on services can be activated and shut down almost instantly, enterprises will be able to contract for them daily instead of for years at a time, NTT says. In reality, most enterprises run a firewall or a VPN for very long periods at any given location, but long-term lock-in has turned many customers against their carriers, Virtela's Goel said.

"CIOs are going to like the flexibility, but if they like the service, they're probably never going to leave you," Goel said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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