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BT: Virtualization Must Include Legacy

Carol Wilson
11/15/2016
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LONDON -- OSS in the Era of SDN & NFV -- BT is working to bring the benefits of virtualization to the physical networks it operates today, and it's something Neil McRae believes the entire telecom industry needs to address.

Speaking earlier this month at Light Reading's event here, BT 's chief architect said he tells his team that virtualization is "not just about what we do in the future, but how do we leverage this for the stuff we have today?"

"In my mind it is impossible to ignore the fact that I have, in the UK, 6000 nodes delivering Ethernet to customers, and another 2000 points delivering broadband service and I have to build upon this capability if I want to overlay more applications such as TV or mobile services," McRae said. "I need to control all of those assets -- because those assets will be there at least 10 years, hopefully more. If I can't leverage them in this new world, then effectively we will have this thing that is very fast stuck in this thing that is very slow. And I think our industry is missing that fact."

BT's Neil McRae

McRae said BT is moving forward with other aspects of virtualization, including developing separate capabilities for larger and smaller commercial customers, and exploring white box hardware. The third leg of that stool is the effort to apply "virtualization, cloudification and SDN-ification" to legacy network assets.

"Our intention is to bring some of this agility to the networks we have today," he said. "Some people think I'm crazy for that and it might be true."

McRae said that in his conversations with other operators, they have expressed surprise at what BT is doing -- his response is that without including physical legacy networks in the virtualization effort, "you won't see the benefits of what you are doing now for a very long time."

In BT today, the goal is to make sure any piece of technology added to the network is done so within five days, McRae said. "It's all about keeping everything agile -- if it faces the network, touches the network, it has to be able to move in five days or less," he said. "The idea of something being delivered to me in a nice brown box from Nokia and Cisco and it going into the network delivery-plus-five -- that is what we have."

The BT executive also made a plea for reduced complexity in network operations, asking vendors to look for the simplest way of doing everything. One key element to that going forward will be building in more automation and machine learning and eliminating the human touch. McRae went so far as to advocate for the end of network operations centers as they are currently viewed, to be replaced by technicians with spare parts to be dispatched as needed by automated processes.


Want to know more about managing and orchestrating virtualized networks? Check out our orchestration section in the Light Reading NFV channel.


Flexibility is another key goal for BT and that includes maintaining vendor flexibility as well, he said.

He did cut vendors some slack, noting their current marketplace is as competitive and challenging as the ones network operators have, and saying it's up to the operators to maintain a level of abstraction that allows them to pick best-of-breed technology.

McRae offhandedly admitted that doesn't always happen. Initially, he heaped praise on Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) for its microservices approach, developed by acquisition Cyan, saying it "reconfirmed my commitment that we could do this in a telco because they have been able to do it with their controller." But he then added, "Sadly, we didn't buy it but that's a different story" and moved on to another topic.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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Ray@LR
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Ray@LR,
User Rank: Blogger
11/16/2016 | 8:15:34 AM
McRae is not alone -- figuring out how is the big hurdle
The desire to bring the agility, flexibility etc of virtualization to existing systems/infrastructure is universal, but figuring out HOW to do that is the very hard part. If BT can at least open the door, they'll find plenty of people coming a'knocking to ask how they did it.
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