Inside CenturyLink's NFV/SDN Strategy
Feger hesitates to say that CenturyLink has an overall SDN/NFV deployment game plan, however, calling its roadmap "very high-level, non-detailed and open-ended," largely because he sees major network management and orchestration issues that have yet to be addressed.
"Network management is my biggest concern around this," he says. "It is not getting the technology to function, it's how do we transition from a traditional network operations environment to support something where you have multi-tenant systems inside common hardware and common clusters, and get to where you have kind of broken organizational boundaries that have been traditionally stood up."
In this arena, CenturyLink is working to automate the network orchestrators, to try to take as much of the manual work out of the network management processes as it can, to solve some of the problems its operations teams will have in transitioning to a virtualized environment and away from today's network management silos. Feger admits this isn't a complete solution, but "we can at least take out some of the heavy impact by putting a lot of automation around it."
The network operator is working with a few different orchestration systems and a few different proofs of concept at public events over the next several months, as well as conducting its own internal bake-offs of different orchestrators, he says.
CenturyLink's work to break down the traditional management silos or stacks within its organization has garnered significant attention of late. Feger himself has spoken publicly of those efforts and the company has announced work with Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) to bring its traditional approaches to operations and support systems (OSSs) into greater alignment with long-term goals. (See CenturyLink Drives a Nail Into Osmine’s Coffin and CenturyLink, Ericsson Leverage Legacy for Agile IT.)
"We do have an approach that we are pretty happy with, pretty early on in our efforts with Ericsson. We believe the way we approach this is we need to transition our back office systems to support what we call the next-gen world, the next-gen infrastructure we are building," Feger says. "You can stand up an orchestration system, have NFV and SDN in this little bubble and everything works fine. The next thing you need it to do is interact with rest of your business or the rest of your customers' services -- you have to have a way to bridge it into everyday business."
The work with Ericsson on its service agility framework will enable CenturyLink to transform the way it handles inventory management and activation systems as well as retool its workflow systems to move to a structure based on applications programming interfaces (APIs) instead of traditional monolithic telco structures.
The team working on the OSS transformation process is "tightly linked" with the team handling the move to SDN and NFV, Feger says, so as an NFV orchestration system is introduced, it becomes "another puzzle piece in the stack."
"We have created what I call the on-ramp and off-ramp capabilities to the API structures to bring in additional services like orchestration or SDN controllers," he says. "We feel like we have the operational components identified and being developed. When we actually get the thing stood up, that will become the proof. But so far on paper we feel pretty good about it."
Next page: The impact of NFV/SDN on vendors, customers