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Ciena Amps Up Software Play, Attacks VNF 'Agility Gap'

Dan O'Shea
12/3/2014
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Ciena has added some heft to the attempts of managed services providers -- not to mention Ciena itself -- to compete in an increasingly software-centric telecom universe. The company Wednesday announced a new virtualized software platform and virtual network functions marketplace, as well as a new software-focused business division to help the vendor broaden its offerings from its traditional hardware core competency.

Ciena's Agility Matrix platform, to be generally available in the second quarter of next year, includes two pieces: Director, an operations management and orchestration engine that coordinates the purchase, distribution and delivery of virtual network functions on demand from service providers to enterprise customers; and VNF Market, the online marketplace where enterprise network managers will be able to shop for third-party VNFs, with the ability to buy usage licenses of varying lengths as they see they need for appliances, network services and other applications. VNF Market is launching with five initial third-party partners -- BlackRidge Technology Holdings Inc. , Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Certes Networks Inc. , Silver Peak Systems Inc. and Spirent Communications plc . (See Ciena Launches Virtual Software Platform.)

"Network managers would like to consume as much or as little of the network as they need," said Francois Locoh-Donou, senior vice president, Global Products Group at Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), during a press conference this morning. "Service providers are facing flatter revenue for wireline services and difficulty customizing their networks to deliver services to customers in real time. They both are faced with an agility gap."

Ciena's answer to filling that gap is to leverage virtualized software, making it easier for MSPs to offer, deliver and bill for VNFs to support their enterprise customers' needs, instead of having to buy physical appliances in bulk to sell and ship to their customers through their own typically cumbersome ordering cycles. It's a progressive concept that sounds good in spirit, but are service providers ready to jump into a pay-as-you-go model?

"There may be some commercial resistance to selling network services in a pay-as-you-go model but this is weakening," said Caroline Chappell, senior analyst at Heavy Reading. "It's just the way the world is going, and the customer experience enterprise customers now expect as a result of IT consumerization. The question is, how quickly can service providers bring this capability to market, and Ciena addresses that."


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This is a major move by Ciena on the virtualization revolution. Traditional network hardware vendors, particularly on the WAN side, have taken their time joining this revolution. Ciena earlier this year partnered with Ericsson to develop an SDN controller and other solutions, but with this new platform and marketplace offering, the vendor also is committing big resources internally, launching a software-focused Agility division currently staffed with 100 employees and led by telecom veteran Kevin Sheehan. The division will take responsibility for both Ciena's SDN and NFV efforts.

"It's a bit of a startup within the larger company, but we're working with the existing Ciena sales team," Sheehan said. "We think this should increase demand for VNFs from carriers, and create more immediate up-sell opportunities for them to offer related VNFs once they have an order from a customer."

Chappell called the overall effort a "radically new offering" by Ciena that other vendors may follow. Some aspects, however, bear some resemblance to how Nuage Networks is working to help carriers get SDN applications into the business market. Also, some carriers offer their own self-service portals designed to do a similar job with cloud services catalogs. In addition, Virtela, now owned by NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT), has moved in a similar direction, Chappell noted. (See Nuage Looks to Help Carriers Drive Downmarket With SDN and NFV Lets NTT America Flex Its Networks.)

— Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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