Like many cable operators, WOW is making its first foray into network virtualization with a focus on business services. That's not where the story ends, however. Within two to three years, WOW also expects to be operating virtualized systems across its residential footprint and throughout its own internal infrastructure.
WideOpenWest Holdings LLC (WOW) kicked off field trials with Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR)'s Cloud CPE solution in late September; an offering that includes Juniper's Contrail Cloud Platform, Contrail Service Orchestration and vSRX Virtual Firewall. The goal is to automate service provisioning, connection optimization and network security. (See WOW Trials Juniper vCPE for Business.)
In phase one, WOW is implementing the new virtualized components with business customers over existing equipment, and equipment that comes from multiple vendors. In the future, however, the cable company expects it will be able to help its customers transition to less specialized hardware, pushing even more networking functions into the cloud and increasing software-driven automation.
Regarding the challenge of dealing with legacy and heterogeneous infrastructure, WOW Vice President of Engineering Eric Fligel says, "We have a network made up of various vendors, various equipment from those different vendors. And so for us the challenge, and I think the challenge for everybody, and kind of a scary thing for a lot of people, is finding a solution that's going to work across those."
Beyond the Juniper products in WOW's network, Fligel adds, "We have a major deployment of another vendor for our business services network infrastructure, and one of the key things for us was being able to programmatically and systematically orchestrate and provision across that equipment as well."
According to Fligel, Juniper's cloud solution makes that orchestration possible. Ultimately, Fligel believes that it won't even matter whether a customer uses a cable modem, fiber-based customer premises equipment (CPE) or something else. In any scenario, WOW should be able to automatically provision the equipment and deliver network services.
The move toward virtualized functions and network automation is a big step for WOW, but the company sees major benefits beyond business services. "Business services is getting a lot of the press and maybe some of the buzz, but I think it's much more than that ... It's really more the evolution of just the network in general," says Fligel.
Increasingly, operators are planning their network upgrades with an eye toward supporting a diversity of services. The strategies at work in the commercial services sector are also applicable to the traditional residential cable video and Internet market, and they're likely to form the foundation for future wireless services as well.
"The next 12 months is going to be learning and refining what we're doing and how we're doing it, and then my hope is that at that point we're full speed ahead around more than just business services," says Fligel. "I would expect over the course of the next 24 to 36 months to really see significant change from an infrastructure standpoint."
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading