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Deutsche Telekom TeraStream: Designed for Simplicity

Almost a year ago rumors started circulating about a Deutsche Telekom pilot network utilizing some crazy new optic technology. In spring I’ve heard about them using NFV and Tail-f NCS for service provisioning … but it took a few more months till we got the first glimpses into their architecture.

TL&DR summary: Good design always beats bleeding-edge technologies

Business drivers

Deutsche Telekom realized (early enough) that they would start making losses on every single service they offer unless they drastically reduced their costs and simplified service provisioning.

We’ve heard similar arguments numerous times during the last few years (industry press was full of them at the ONF launch), but Deutsche Telekom decided to go down a totally different route. Instead of invoking the ghosts of virgin unicorns and sprinkling pixie dust on white-label boxes they decided to go back to the basics and design the next-generation network from scratch, simplifying every single component.

Horseshoes instead of rings

Everyone is building ring networks these days. Deutsche Telekom decided to build horseshoes – a broken ring connecting two core routers (at different locations) with edge (PE) routers in the same region.

Everyone is using complex (and expensive) optical transport gear on long-distance fibers. Deutsche Telekom uses passive add-drop multiplexers and WDM router interfaces (this is the only bleeding-edge part of their solution: they use coherent 100GE optics on router interfaces).

The router interfaces generate signals with the right color to match the ADM to which they are connected. Core routers have numerous interfaces connected to the same ADM (horseshoe headend), PE routers have four 100GE upstream interfaces, each one emitting a different lambda.

You could further minimize the equipment by generating multi-lambda signal in router linecards, but such a beast has yet to be built with 100GE coherent optics.

The logical topology of the optical network is exceedingly simple. Every PE router has two 100GE lambdas going to each core router, as shown on the next diagram (I drew only one lambda to keep the diagram clean), and they don’t use LAG/LACP (or anything similar) to bond the lambdas, but rely instead on IGP and ECMP.

Deutsche Telekom presentations are not very explicit when it comes to the core network (upstream of core routers). If I understood correctly, they have a full mesh between the core routers, but it doesn’t matter that much. Their primary customer base (at least in the Croatian pilot) are residential customers that communicate with servers outside of DT network, and DT tries to keep traffic away from the core by establishing extensive peering relationships between external content providers and as many core routers as possible.

Simplified routing

Having a simple logical topology greatly simplifies the routing. They use a single simple IGP instance with no MPLS whatsoever.

Customer VPNs are implemented with IP encapsulation (L2TPv3 or equivalent), they wouldn’t gain anything by deploying MPLS TE in their topology, and they decided to forgo MPLS fast reroute.

IGP-based LFA would be a good enough fast reroute mechanism in their topology, but (as far as I understood) they decided not to use it. The answer I got from Ian Farrer during his PLNOG presentation was brilliant: “I couldn’t find a single business use case that would require 50 msec failover, and we can easily get 200 msec convergence with IGP.

The cherry on the top of the already-beautiful cake: they hate the complexities of dual stack, so the access network (horseshoes) is IPv6-only.

End result: extremely simple and reliable network. Easy to operate, easy to troubleshoot, built with traditional technologies, and using traditional equipment (they decided to use ASR 9000s for PE and core routers).

More information

More information

8 comments:

  1. This is nothing extraordinary and people were doing that for years with 1g speeds. what is extraoridinary is that they are no mpls and ipv6. I wonder what is their limit on number of boxes per ring. there is always this temptation of to get another box in.

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    1. Ivan, where did you read about tailf ? all i see is netconf / yang in their oresentations and talks

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    2. I actually met Carl @ Interop. They also did an interesting Packet Pushers podcast.

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  2. There's another good presentation from RIPE 67, by Peter Löthberg "TeraStream – A Simplified IP Network Service Delivery Mode", video and slides here https://ripe67.ripe.net/archives/video/3/

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  3. I agree the hub/spoke topology using DWDM is nothing new at all. The horseshoe is the physical fiber topology, also nothing new. Your sites are limited to the number of DWDM channels (80/96) the ring can support and how much bandwidth is going to each site. What is the cooler part is the all-IPv6 network, but part of me thinks it's way more complex than it needs to be. The other big part of Terastream was collapsing the number of routers from a bunch to basically two at each site and then the core routers. They are doing this by making the routers do a lot of work and not separating functions.

    One correction you should make in the blog post: The reality is they are still using transport systems. The ASR9K doesn't have a coherent tunable 100G interface and coherent tunable CFP aren't quite out just yet and there is no router support for them. The only vendor shipping a coherent tunable 100G port is Juniper on the PTX.

    In the presentation posted they use the terms "physical" and "logical" for the packet/optical piece. The "logical" solution (what they are doing today) involves using the management/control plane to make the 100GE CFP port on the router look like a tunable port by managing a 1:1 relationship with the coherent tunable port on the transport shelf, in this case Cisco M6, they even show a diagram stating "iOverlay" which is a Cisco term. Cisco makes the M6 look like a transparent extension to the ASR9K but it's really connected via a transponder. Cisco is pushing this over router coherent optics now because they can't get the density on the router. For instance the new NCS6K will likely never have built-in DWDM optics, they will always use an add-on shelf (NCS4K/2K) and then make the transponder interconnect really cheap using CPAK/MPO cables. You will be able to "tune" the port on the routers since there is a 1:1 relationship. It looks like they have done some testing with Coriant (old NSN) and ALU transport gear as well.

    The rest of the "transport system" is just passive mux/demuxes and amps if you aren't using the ROADM modules. If you don't need a multi-degree ROADM then all you need is a mux/demux.

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    1. Replying to my own post but further looking at the presentation what is crazy is they have a full mesh of actual fiber between the R2 nodes. It must be nice to have access to that much fiber. :)

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  4. It is very interesting - and I actually asked this question to one of the presenters of the design. What would be the Core Router, if there is no MPLS? By design they will have to have peering right? Then the Core Router in this design would have to have Full BGP Table (400k+ IPv4 now, 500k+ in the near future). What would be that beast, that has to have Nx100G interfaces , that has to carry at line rate the 500k+ prefixes?
    I wasn't given an answer to this question of mine.

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