Exclusive Interview: Toshiya Asaba, CEO of Stratosphere, SDN JV Spinout from IIJ and ACCESS

Stratosphere - SDN JV - Toshiya Asaba

Since our last Japan-focused interview, SDN in Japan has continued its steady march. We had an opportunity recently to catch up with Mr. Toshiya Asaba, the CEO of Stratosphere, an aggressive new spin-out from Internet Initiative Japan and ACCESS Inc (parent company of networking software vendor IP Infusion), with the legendary author of the Zebra/Quagga routing stack, Kunihiro Ishiguro, as its CTO.

SDNCentral: For our readers not familiar with Stratosphere, can you provide a bit of background?

Mr. Asaba: “Stratosphere Inc was established jointly by Internet Initiative Japan Inc and ACCESS Inc. in April, 2012. We currently have around 10 engineers developing SDN platform software. For those outside Japan, IIJ is one of the oldest ISP in Japan, founded in 1992. I have been involved from the beginning as one of founding members and designed IIJ’s initial Internet backbone. IIJ went into the DataCenter business in the late1990s and has been providing Cloud Services for the last 3 years. ACCESS is a software developer for mobile devices and it acquired IP Infusion Inc in 2006. IP Infusion’s stacks and ACCESS’s software powers a good portion of the service provider and enterprise networks today. Mr. Ishiguro, CTO/Founder of IP Infusion and author of ZebOS initiated this joint venture early last year. We have known each other since the early 1990s. I believe that the unique combination of a big ISP/Cloud operator and a routing/networking engine software provider is the best match for developing the next-gen networking platform.”

SDNCentral: What is Stratosphere’s view of SDN?

Mr. Asaba: “SDN has 3 aspects. One is controlling networking devices including routers, switches, and software appliances. The second is managing virtual networks constructed on top of those underlay physical devices with a central computational model, which can define and describe both logical and physical networking components and relationships or interactions among them. The third is opening up those virtualized networking functionalities as a set of APIs to software developers who want to produce their own “services” on top of those virtualized functionalities.

With those 3 aspects, SDN provides the software platform for managed and secure virtual networking services for any devices with Ethernet interfaces, including Virtual Machines on Hypervisors, physical machines, storages, mobile devices, and so on, over the DataCenter/Cloud, WANs, or the Internet.

The SDN platform should provide swift provisioning of any functionality in an elastic and managed manner, including secure communication, robust connectivity, fast protection in case of physical network failure, and QoS/CoS. It should also enable VNOs (Virtual Network Operations) to run above facility-based network/data center providers.”

SDNCentral: Where do you see SDN having relevance in the market today?

Mr. Asaba: “Today, big Cloud service operators are the main users of SDN. They see SDN as a tool for breaking VLAN limitations and for automating configurations of their cloud/network infrastructure.

Carriers are also a very important player in SDN market. They are seeking dramatic reduction of their CAPEX/OPEX with additional value like fast provisioning, robust operations, flexible service configurations, all without any vendor dependencies. I don’t see the SDN market for Enterprises heating up yet. However, I believe in the near future, enterprise users and SOHO/individual users will reap the benefits of SDN when they want to virtualize their work environment with putting their servers in public/private Clouds and accessing those resources through mobile devices from arbitrary locations. That environment should dramatically change people’s working styles.”

SDNCentral: I understand that the original project creator of GNU Zebra, which became Quagga (used by Vyatta/Brocade and many other networking companies), is working at Stratosphere? How does that relate to the SDN projects that you are working on?

Mr. Asaba: “As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Ishiguro initiated this project and he is also currently Vice president/CTO of Stratosphere Inc. He is now trying to carve out appropriate functionality of Zebra to be incorporated within our SDN platform

In addition, because SDN needs to work well with software/hardware routers and switches, his expertise on developing routing engines will greatly contribute to the evolution of SDN market.”

SDNCentral: What is your view on network virtualization? What real-world problems can it solve?

Mr. Asaba: “It directly contributes to overcoming VLAN limitations which some cloud operators suffer from today, and also enables cloud operators to automate their service provisioning. VLAN has been a popular technology for decades now, but it limits provisioning Ethernet slices within single physical network domain.

Network virtualization itself has more possibilities. It expands the virtual L2 reach of any computational device connected to the Internet. I think of Ethernet connections for devices like telephone connections for people. Now telephone connections can be deployed on-demand, managed securely, and kept within some QoS targets over the public Internet. Ethernet connections should be the same. It can be an application over the Internet and also realize secure and flexible connections among devices.”

SDNCentral: How does SDN play with existing WAN technologies?

Mr. Asaba: The virtual network slices produced and controlled by SDN should span over multiple WAN technologies, like MPLS, PBB and so on. And the job of the SDN controller is to stitch those different WAN and LAN segments and assigns appropriate label or IDs for each segment as packets travels along the virtual slice.

In order to make that happen, we are now working on implementing mapping capability among VLAN IDs, VXLAN’s VNIs, and MPLS labels at our SDN gateway.

SDNCentral: Thank you for that insight. What is your opinion on Northbound APIs? How do you think they will evolve?

Mr. Asaba: “Here at Stratosphere, we are planning to provide structured or layered Northbound APIs.

The first layer should be end-user API like Amazon EC2 API. This is the most abstract view of network, mainly for end-users.

The second should be for service providers, which enables allocating parts of resources, e.g. which pieces of infrastructure, to each service provider. This will allow service providers to provide virtual networking services to their own users using those allocated resources. This type of APIs helps enabling VNOs, such as EVNO (Ethernet Virtual Network Operators), on top of the infrastructure-based network providers.

The third one should be for infrastructure operators who need to configure and operate real switches, servers and routers through their own management systems.

Finally, I would expect that APIs like these will eventually be standardized somewhere.”

SDNCentral: What is the role of open-source in SDN? Do you think open-source projects in SDN are sustainable?

Mr. Asaba: “I think software enabling forwarding planes like OVS, or OFS (OpenFlow Switches) should be open resources for everyone because this kind of software provides basic functionality or standardized protocols for all devices or software participating in virtualized networking environments. In that sense, southbound controllers like OFC (OpenFlow Controller) would fall into the same bucket. Vendors and service providers should commercially compete at the upper layers, such as how to design or architect comprehensive virtualized networking solutions or how to control or manage virtual networks.”

SDNCentral: Are there unique customer or market challenges in Japan that you think are different from the US or the rest of the world?

Mr. Asaba: “In Japan, because of their prevalence and dominance, mobile game operators could be good customers for SDN solutions. In addition, we also have a very large Wide-area Ethernet market in Japan. My belief is that the SDN platform can help in the operation of Metro-Ethernet type services over the Internet, and make them much more elastic and flexible. Furthermore, most ISPs in Japan use NGN-based access circuits to provision their services to end users. That means the VNO model is very popular in Japan, and this is probably unique to us.”

SDNCentral: Thank you very much, Asaba-san, for spending time with us! Looking forward to seeing great things from Stratosphere!

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