Last month, in March 2015, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) 2015 Business Information Technology (BIT) Conference with my colleague, Scott Phillips. We participated in the session, “Airport Networks in the Cloud: NFV, SDN, and what they mean to Airport IT.” Our presentation covered some groundbreaking developments impacting airport IT, and we wanted to share them with you.
NFV Replaces Proprietary Hardware with Software-Based Platforms
Today’s connected passenger isn’t just connected; a growing number of travelers are hyperconnected: 97% carry a smartphone, tablet or laptop, and nearly 20% carry all three devices (SITA). Airport networks are expected to deliver fast and reliable wireless access, plus provide secure access to support internal systems and third-party applications, e.g. location-based services.
With a lack of capital funding and limited resources for technology initiatives, how can airport IT professionals test their networks for new services without installing costly new infrastructure and hardware?
Network functions virtualization (NFV) is a fundamentally different approach to network management. It eliminates the need to install new hardware for new services. Virtualizing and centralizing network functions using cloud-based technology, NFV enables network equipment (servers, switches, routers, etc.) to run as virtual software applications.
NFV and SDN: A Dynamic Duo
Complementary technology to NFV, software-defined networking (SDN) separates the network control logic from network equipment to make the network programmable; essentially, it centralizes command and control of the network without having to physically reconfigure or program individual devices. SDN can be used without NFV, and vice versa; however, when used together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Operating on different levels, both technologies leverage software-based, open platforms to perform key networking functions. When combined, they provide automated provisioning with centralized command and control of the network.
Value to Airports
Virtualization delivers the agility, flexibility, scalability, and data visibility that airports need to keep pace with changing network and customer demands. By virtualizing network functions with NFV and making networks centrally programmable with SDN, airports can quickly and dynamically introduce new services or modify existing ones, because changes are accomplished via software. Eliminating the need for expensive hardware and physical infrastructure, virtualization also reduces capital expenditures (CapEx) and operating expenses (OpEx).
Virtualization in Action: S.M.A.R.T. NetworksTM
At Boingo, we recognized the power of virtualization and incorporated NFV and SDN technology into our S.M.A.R.T. (Secure, Multi-Platform, Analytics-Driven, Responsive, and Tiered) Network architecture. We have deployed—or are in the process of implementing—S.M.A.R.T. Networks at five U.S. airports already, with more on the way. In addition to meeting diverse passenger needs by providing different tiers of service to different users over the same network, S.M.A.R.T. Networks support dynamic network optimization and traffic management.