Windstream's Brown on Automation: It Pays to Start Small
After significant discussion internally about where to move next in network automation, Windstream settled on innovating service orchestration for a new optical wave service, and the results of those efforts have been fruitful, says Windstream's Jeff Brown at Light Reading's Automation Everywhere event in Dallas this month.
Launched in the third quarter of 2017, Windstream's SDN Orchestrated Waves (SDNow) transport service or "SDNow" is an optical wave service deployed at the layer 1 level that utilizes multi-vendor service orchestration and automated provisioning. The service is commercially available and has expanded to 55 markets in the US, and customers can "order SDNow 10G point-to-point circuits for 1,500 long-haul route combinations, with delivery in 20 days." (See Windstream Intensifies SDN Focus, Expands SDNow to 50 Markets Across the US.)
In response to Heavy Reading Senior Analyst James Crawshaw's question on how and where to start in planning for a new orchestration solution, Brown explains, "This has come up numerous times today -- where do you start? How big do you go? Telstra's Jim Fagan's presentation had some really good points -- start small, do it right, learn from there and grow. There was quite a bit of debate [at Windstream] about which part of the service portfolio or network we would want to orchestrate first."
Brown, director of Product Management & Marketing, explains that for Windstream Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: WIN), focusing on service innovation at the layer 1 level made sense both in response to customer demand and because the operator had expanded its long-haul fiber transport network throughout the west coast in 2016 and 2017. (See Windstream Makes Major Western Fiber Expansion.)
"When you look at providing an orchestrated service, being able to control from the last mile access loop that someone owns hasn't quite been solved for in the industry yet, so we felt we'd have much better success focusing on our layer 1 services which are predominantly on-net to on-net."
The deployment of SDNow did face challenges, however, says Brown, such as "working in a multi-domain environment with multiple vendors." Scaling the service also presented a challenge, as did accepting the fact that only so much testing of different scenarios can occur when utilizing a DevOps approach.
"If you did it the old-fashioned way, you'd never get anything out the door," says Brown.
While applying intent-based networking principles would have been easier at the layer 3 level, it's much harder at the layer 1 level, he adds. "Network discovery is a huge issue for us, that's literally where most of our problems come."
So what has Windstream learned on this automation journey? Strong network inventory and data integrity are both key, says Brown, and ultimately Windstream has seen increased customer satisfaction with the SDNow service.
"Multi-domain, multi-vendor service orchestration is definitely complicated and takes some work. We have great support from our partners, but obviously having the platform providers interfacing properly with their controllers and then interfacing properly with the service orchestrator takes some work," says Brown in an interview with Light Reading. "We've gone through those growing pains and made it work at the layer 1 level."
— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading