Pacnet builds on OpenStack for NFV

Cloud uptake driving interest in network-as-a-service in the region, says Pacnet VP

Adding support for network functions virtualization (NFV) to its network-as-a-service platform meant that Pacnet had to delve into OpenStack's source code and modify Neutron — the open source cloud computing project's networking component.

As a result, version 2.0 of Pacnet's NaaS offering, PEN —the 'Pacnet Enabled Network' — now supports the deployment of virtual routers and virtual firewalls.

PEN initially launched in February after a beta that began in November last year. PEN 2.0 was released in the middle of last month, though Jon Vestal, Pacnet's vice-president, product architecture, described it as a "slowish release".

"We're putting out features on a weekly basis rather than just one big push," Vestal explained.

Support for vRouters and vFirewalls was added alongside a 'direct Internet access' feature for PEN 2.0. DIA allows customers to drag and drop an icon to connect their infrastructure to the Internet through PEN.

"[PEN] will automatically assign them IP addresses, configure the gateway routers on our side and create the flow for them into their network," Vestal said.

"Coupled with DIA was the need to provide [customers] some sort of firewall capabilities, so we started down our NFV path and introduced the concept of virtual firewalls and virtual routers," Vestal said.

"They don't have to be tied to DIA — that's one use case. Customers can again drag over an icon for a virtual router, virtual firewall, drop it in their network then create flows into and out of those devices at will."

Being able to pop OpenStack's hood and add features to the project validated Pacnet's decision to build PEN on top of the open source project, Vestal said.

Vestal said Pacnet had spent a significant amount of time assessing what platform to use.

"We looked at all of them," he said.

"I spent a lot of time, and my team spent a lot of time, looking at OpenStack and CloudStack and VMware and KVM. We knew we were going to need a large compute environment for our test-dev environment and our production environments. We also knew that we wanted to have NFV from day one.

"So we knew we were going to need this large cluster environment and we kind of backed OpenStack for a couple of reasons."

Vestal said key factors behind the decision included the openness of the project's community and the number of active developers involved in it.

"Open source was important to us because we've had to make some changes in the OpenStack core in order to support NFV," he added.

"The other thing we looked at is the involvement of the development community — we see a lot of commits in OpenStack.

"OpenStack is a very actively developed project and it was important for us to stay cutting edge — we used DPDK [Intel's Data Plane Development Kit for processing network packets on x86-based systems] and a few other very bleeding edge things in order to get the most out of the network infrastructure. Being able to have access to the underlying source code was key to that."

Pacnet worked with OpenStack engineering company Mirantis to enhance the project's support for NFV and build some of the user-facing parts of PEN, Vestal said.

Cloud initiatives boost interest in NaaS

Pacnet is seeing a "significant amount of demand" for network-as-a-service in the region, Vestal said, particularly in Australia and Singapore. "I think of a lot of it is being driven by the move to cloud computing and government-backed initiatives to do that," he added.

PEN supports connections to Amazon's data centres through AWS Direct Connect.

Carriers have been using PEN for virtual POPs, connecting into Pacnet's network in a single city then delivering services throughout the region without deploying their own equipment in every location, Vestal said.

Pacnet has also seen significant interest in bandwidth-on-demand for DR. "But now we're starting to see it being used more and more in the core of networks, where customers are starting to get themselves comfortable with the concept of bandwidth-on-demand," Vestal added.

Support for approval chains in PEN 2.0 will help customers adjust to the concept, Vestal said.

"This [feature] came from direct feedback from some of our enterprise customers," Vestal said. "They liked the concept but they were already afraid of their Amazon bills, so they wanted a way to make sure that the engineer who was requesting the bandwidth actually had the authority to request that bandwidth and enter into a contract on the company's behalf."

Vestal said that Pacnet has started to see some integration of bandwidth-on-demand into applications.

One example was a VoIP company looking to integrate PEN support into its PBXs, Vestal said. Pacnet's network can be used as a trunk between two PBXs and the VoIP company can use their existing SLA tools to monitor call quality.

"As they see call quality degrading they can add more bandwidth, they can change the network latency parameters, they can tweak the network as they need to in order to maintain the call quality that they're looking for between those two PBXes."

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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