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Healthcare provider finds SDN is the proper Rx

John Dix | May 22, 2014
William Hanna, vice president of technical services at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), went out looking for a way to add capacity to a backup network and found what he wanted in Software Defined Networking (SDN) tools from Alcatel-Lucent. Network World Editor in Chief John Dix sat down with Hanna to learn about the process and experience.

We looked at other folks' products, but we didn't get to trials. We're still opting to trial products from a couple of more manufacturers.

Do you think ultimately you'll end up with a mix of different SDN approaches?

It is going to be interesting. I think where SDN is going next is into the WAN and eventually the campus. In the WAN, for example, you can get a small, non-MPLS-based router today for $2,500 to $5,000, and they are good routers, but they can't pedal fast enough. They usually have a limit of anywhere between 20 to 25 megabits per second, and they're not MPLS. 

If you want to build your network with MPLS, you're talking about three to four times the cost. So if someone came to you with a product which essentially would be an SDN MPLS product that could run on x86-based hardware and could support up to a gig worth of data with redundancy, you would be very interested. 

If you had legacy-type T-1 connections it's not going to solve that problem. But if you were looking at Ethernet service or using your own dark fiber service, that would be something that you would be interested in, which we are. And I know folks are going to come out with products like that.

Obviously Cisco is hell-bent on pushing its SDN vision, as is VMware, both of whom you partner with. Are they banging on your door trying to get in here and take you in a different direction?

We've had conversations with both. But at the time it was a question of, who's shipping product? But we've watched the presentations, our architects and engineers have had discussions. They are certainly interesting. We have talked to Cisco about the Insieme product, and they're more open-minded now, that's for sure.

So just because you've gone this route to start, you're not precluding picking up any of these other tools to supplement the network.

Never is a long time, right? That's the way I look at it. We use the products that we need to meet the requirements. We have Juniper firewalls and we have Palo Alto next-generation firewalls. So we're not a one-vendor shop. 

SDN is going to be with us for a long time. It's the biggest thing I've seen in networking in probably 20 years.  I think we're going to make people more efficient. We're going to be able to do more work. 

Is OpenFlow important to what you're doing now, and if not, will it be at some point?

For what I'm doing now, no, because I'm going with a single-vendor solution for now. But yeah, when we would talk about interoperability, if we were going to use multi vendors, sure. So it is important. Is it on the top of the list today? No. But open standards are always important in networking. 


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