Verizon today unveiled its corporate-wide strategy for moving to SDN, naming five key vendors that are its current partners in the effort and promising "meaningful" deployments across a converged wireless-wireline network by 2016. (See Verizon Outlines SDN Strategy.)
Citing scalability and flexibility for the Internet of Things world and speed to market of new services as its two big drivers, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) VP-Network Planning Brian Higgins admitted his company's strategy is different from those announced to date because Verizon is working directly with Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) and Nokia Networks in developing software-based solutions and strategies.
Companies such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT) that have already been aggressively pushing SDN strategies have leaned heavily on their own internal development. (See Ethernet Expo 2012: SDN Is Nothing New at NTT, NTT Reaping Opex Rewards of SDN, AT&T Puts SDN/NFV in Driver's Seat and AT&T Working on Home-Grown SDN Controller for Later in 2014 .)
That doesn't mean the networking giant will be dependent on its partners' traditional hardware, however -- quite the opposite. Higgins says Verizon is coming forward now to make the industry aware of its strategy and vendor plan and is focusing on software from these key partners with a plan to also incorporate commodity hardware and many non-traditional vendors in the effort as well. Verizon is already working with "well north of 20" such non-traditional players, either smaller vendors or those not traditionally part of the telecom mix, he said.
"What we are doing right now and have been doing for some time is working on decomposing all of what we have loosely categorized as the monolithic hardware and software offerings -- deconstructing those and figuring out how we get into software as a primary delivery mechanism," he says. Verizon will not be using any end-to-end vendor ecosystems, he adds.
Verizon's SDN strategy is significant in how it will unify the company's diverse networks, built from a combination of local telco operations, Verizon Wireless and the long-distance network that was once MCI, notes Brian Washburn, service director, Global Business Network and IT Services at Current Analysis .
"This is a really huge announcement giving Verizon's entire roadmap, couched in a fairly innocuous press release," Washburn noted. "Verizon has finally got a strategy to tie together all of its networks. The company finally has a way to pull together its separate wireline, wireless, private IP, Internet and FiOS networks. That means a whole lot of streamlining for Verizon but this gets them to the final place where they can offer truly converged services."
Verizon was considered a pioneer in the early days of SDN discussion but has been relatively quiet in recent years as other companies including AT&T, NTT, Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) and others seem to be moving ahead. One possibility, Washburn says, is that the company has simply been less visible in its efforts. Two of its better known public faces in the virtualization space, Stu Elby and Prodip Sen, left the company for vendor jobs, reducing its public profile further. (See Verizon's Elby to Head Infinera's Cloud Team and HP Looks to Conquer Carriers With NFV.)
Higgins says today's announcement has been in the works for some time. Verizon is operating three labs, in San Jose, Tampa and Waltham, Mass., and multiple commercial data centers on both coasts. It has numerous proofs of concept in process, working with its five key vendors and the non-traditional partners.
"With this announcement, they have laid out the architecture and reference documents and said they are talking to a bunch of vendors and they're all going to come to a basic agreement," Washburn notes. "But they are doing a whole bunch of things behind that. This is one piece of the roadmap but it's still a roadmap."
Higgins says Verizon is moving some existing services onto the SDN platform now and will be adding new services as well, to be announced later this year and into 2016. The service migration is being made systematically based on the "needs of the network and of the customer," he adds.
"We'll create architecture documents, API documents, just like you would expect, to help our vendor partners understand how they can bring new services into the network and drive that process based upon need" after considering things like capital intensity, reliability and customer expectations.
Verizon is facing the same challenges as other major telecom carriers both in transitioning its existing operations system and in preparing its workforce for the new skills needed in a more IT-intensive world. On the operations front, the company is looking at its BSS/OSS and working through individual transitions "on a network function and service-by-service basis," Higgins says, to map what is in place today to a cloud orchestration and management system for the future.
"None of it has been officially decided," he says.
The Verizon exec says there will be significant announcements to come, including more partners and transitions and peeks at the company's roadmap, which will include significant contributions from Open Source. Verizon hasn't yet chosen specific components such as an OpenStack approach or SDN controller, however.
Washburn sees Verizon's SDN effort as part of a major transition for the entire company that includes a mindset as well as new ways of working. "This isn't just about the technology," he notes. "It's a new way of doing business. Better to get started sooner rather than later."
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading