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CenturyLink: Customers Will Drive Innovation on Carrier Networks

Mitch Wagner

CHICAGO -- Light Reading's Big Telecom Event -- Customers will take over carrier networks, driving innovation beyond the mundane capabilities now being developed for NFV.

NFV discussions are still at the early stages, said James Feger, VP network strategy and development, CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), during a BTE panel discussion this week. "We're talking about virtualizing what we already have," he noted, including functions such as firewalls and load balancers. But NFV will permit new kinds of services, driven by carriers' customers being able to program the network themselves through NFV. "You'll see a lot more good ideas coming from the customer site inward," Feger said.

Aloke Tusnial, VP strategic accounts, Netcracker Technology Corp. , agreed. "The control of the network has always been in the service providers' hands," he said. "What NFV allows you to do is give the control to the customer's hands. They create their own services."

OSS/BSS systems will need to adapt to the new regime, becoming the receivers rather than initiators of new services deployed on the network, Feger said. OSS/BSS systems will still need to have awareness of what resources are available on the network for performance and billing purposes.

And NFV will enable innovation in other ways. By deploying virtual network functions wisely, service providers will be able to gain the upper hand over over-the-top (OTT) providers, taking advantage of awareness over their own networks that OTT providers lack, said Charlie Ashton, director of business development, Wind River Systems Inc. .

NFV will require SDN to achieve full benefits. SDN provides the foundation which permits the automatic configuration of virtualized network functions, Tusnial said. Networks can't be agile if each function needs to be configured separately.

"There's a lot of underlying complexity that needs to be addressed," Feger said.

Discussions of NFV and SDN are often confusing. They are discussed in one breath, which blurs the distinctions, Feger said. And the terms used to discuss SDN and NFV aren't defined in a standardized fashion. "If I asked this room what 'orchestration' really means we'll get 20 different answers," he said.

Carriers will need to be sure they use virtualized network functions effectively to get the benefits. One potential pitfall: Complex service chains can introduce latency. Hardware and software designs will need to minimize that, said Nicolas St-Pierre, VP, office of the CTO, Sandvine Inc. (London: SAND; Toronto: SVC). Platforms will require high-performance Vswitching to facilitate predictable and optimized virtual machine placement, Ashton said.

Standards are another potential problem -- or, rather, badly implemented standards are.

"I'm a proponent of standards, but I'm also a proponent of not having too many standards. You can pick the ones you want to implement. That creates a non-standard situation," Feger said.

Proliferating standards can allow incumbents to block new vendors from entering the marketing, Tusnial added.

"Obviously, nobody is going to argue against the benefits of standards," Ashton said. But as a marketplace matures, some vendors dominate. Newcomers will need to interoperate with incumbents, and that trumps formal standards, which will need to be revised to accommodate those needs.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to wagner@lightreading.com.

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User Rank: Light Sabre
6/23/2014 | 9:18:28 AM
Re: Word Complexity
"The control of the network has always been in the service providers' hands," he said. "What NFV allows you to do is give the control to the customer's hands. They create their own services."

I'm not so sure the providers are willing to give up control as much as to allow innovation by customers as a way for the industry to move forward quickly without too much investment by the service providers. Once it can be determined that providers can then exercise it's control, they'll be able to profit off the innovative uses customers have brought to the table. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/20/2014 | 10:09:35 PM
Word Complexity
It's too bad that NFV and SDN can't just be wrapped into one single acronym. I feel like this is getting too confusing to understand on a basic level. It seems that these two technologies are quite intertwined.

Doesn't anyone else think this way?
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