VMware NSX Customer Story: Colt Decreases Data Center Networking Complexity

Adoption of network virtualization and SDN technologies from VMware and Arista Networks simplifies cloud infrastructure and enables automation to reduce timescales of cloud and network service provisioning

Offering the largest enterprise-class cloud footprint in Europe, Colt, an established leader in delivering integrated network, data center, voice and IT services, has implemented software-  defined networking [SDN] and network virtualization to simplify how its managed IT and cloud-based networking environment is deployed, managed and scaled throughout its data centers.

Following an extensive review, Colt selected Arista to provide high speed 10 and 40 gigabit Ethernet cloud-centric switches as an underlay network fabric and VMware NSX™ network virtualization to deliver a fully decoupled software network overlay.

SDN paves the way for automated cloud service delivery

The shift to SDN will provide a flexible, scalable, efficient and cost effective way to support the delivery of Colt’s managed IT services, including cloud based services. This makes Colt one of the first service providers in Europe to adopt SDN in a production environment to remove  automate cloud service delivery.

As a result of deploying a new network architecture based on Arista and VMware networking technologies, the time for Colt to add, change or modify services will now take minutes  rather than days, and will enable Colt to onboard customers faster and expand its service portfolio quicker.

The big transformation in IT in recent years has been the development of cloud services with IT capacity purchased on-demand. In contrast, networking has remained relatively static.  The adoption of server virtualization over the past decade as the foundation for cloud computing and IT-as-a-service have resulted in a completely new operational model for provisioning and managing application workloads. However, the operating model of the network to which dynamic virtualized services are connected has not evolved to help businesses achieve the full benefits of mobile-cloud.

Mirko Voltolini, VP Technology and Architecture at Colt says, “The excitement around SDN and network virtualization is that – for the first time – networking is becoming more software orientated so we’re able to dynamically orchestrate service modification and activation in real-time.  In other words, network connectivity can now keep up when virtual machines and associated compute and storage change or are moved within distributed data centers.  Ultimately this means that servers, storage and now the network are in synch so that we can meet the specific needs of our customers in a timescale they demand.”

With more than 25,000 customers worldwide, Colt offers an information delivery platform comprising network, voice, data center and IT services sold directly to its enterprise customers or indirectly via channel partners and operators. In Europe, it has invested significantly to create a pan European network spanning 22 countries, 195 connected cities, around 19,800 buildings, as well as operating 42 metropolitan area networks.

Turning to the specialist technology firms has really delivered

Colt first considered adopting network overlay technology three years ago. It went out to tender approaching only large, mainstream technology suppliers and was disappointed by the response received.  The cost was too great and solutions not really mature enough to warrant changing. Eighteen months ago, it revisited the process given the technology had evolved, expanding the shortlist of suppliers asked to provide proposals to include specialist firms like Arista and VMware.

VMware NSX enables Colt to decouple the data center network from the underlying physical hardware to gain massive scale while simplifying network design and operations. With NSX, Colt is able to consolidate operations for four disparate physical networks running in the data center and manage these networks as a single logical network. Colt has developed a new data center architecture that leverages the scalability of a Layer 3 data center fabric and NSX’s overlay network virtualization platform.

Chris King, vice president, product marketing, networking and security business unit at VMware, said,  “Colt is an all too common story of an organization that simply hit the limits of what the physical network could provide in a virtualized world. VLAN limitations prevented Colt’s ability to scale. They needed to simplify the physical infrastructure in order to gain flexibility which in turn would allow them to adapt quickly to the business environment. VMware NSX helped Colt successfully execute a data center re-architecture which can now operate at cloud scale with better performance, easier management and lower overall costs.”

In addition to wanting to capitalize on the all the benefits offered by network overlays, the requirement for a new switch supplier was driven by Colt’s need to replace its existing legacy switches which had reached end of life and are not supported anymore.  Furthermore, the business wanted to reduce the total cost of ownership [TCO] of its networking equipment.

Voltolini explains, “Our target was to reduce the unit cost of our switches which includes the cost per port, along with maintenance, power, space and so on.  We wanted a step change in TCO which we will now achieve working with Arista.”

VXLAN addresses the limitations of Spanning Tree

From a technical perspective, Colt also wanted to move away from legacy protocols like Spanning Tree protocol which requires ports to be available – but not used – to deliver service availability. This underutilizes switch assets and adds unnecessary cost to its operation. Moreover, Colt required new switches which could scale to support increased connectivity capabilities both in terms of the number of ports [so that more customers can be connected] as well as logical scale.

Voltolini says, “The new VXLAN protocol removes traditional Ethernet limitations which is crucial for a service provider so that we can handle multiple tenants per port across numerous physical locations.”

Ultimately Arista switches will be installed in all Colt data center locations, the roll out of which will be driven by service and capacity demands.  The expectation is that this will happen over the next 18 to 24 months.  Deployment is made straightforward as all Arista switches – irrespective of port count or speed – feature the same network operating system, the Arista EOS.

Mark Foss, VP Global Operations and Marketing, concludes, “It is important to stress that this project is one of collaboration.  Being an innovative nimble company, we’re accommodating Colt’s requirements and helping shape their service design, while they’re guiding us in terms of our future product roadmap so we develop features pertinent to all cloud service providers.”

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