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Windstream's SDN Push Starts at the Core

Carol Wilson
10/14/2016
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Windstream is taking a different approach to virtualization than some other service providers, choosing to start at the core of its network with its physical network assets with plans to speed up delivery of wavelength and then Ethernet services.

The announcement this week that Windstream Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: WIN) will use Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN)'s Blue Planet for its orchestration fits into that strategy as the telecom service provider pulls together three different technology platforms from two different vendors, in its initial software-defined networking (SDN) deployment. (See Windstream Taps Ciena's Blue Planet for SDN Automation.)

Starting with Ciena's 6500 series, the Ciena/Cyan Z Series and Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN)'s Intelligent Transport Network (ITN), Windstream is "trying to compress the service intervals and the lead-time intervals for lit services, particularly across heterogeneous multivendor solutions," says Art Nichols, vice president of network architecture and technology.

"There's service velocity, but also service consistency, internal reliability -- all the things you expect form classical automation and having a central control point to manage," he tells Light Reading in an interview. And to that list, he also adds more "democratized" provisioning that eliminates or at least pares down vendor-specific domains of expertise to enable flow-through provisioning across a multi-vendor environment.

In the next phase of its effort, Windstream wants to speed up delivery of its Carrier Ethernet services, which will require using Blue Planet across a much larger range of vendors -- "just south of 10," Nichols says.


Want to know more about carrier SDN strategies? Check out our dedicated SDN content channel here on Light Reading.


To accomplish that, Windstream is working with Ciena to develop what the vendor calls "resource adapters" that tie other vendors' gear into Blue Planet and eliminate the need for vendor-specific management and provisioning tools. Blue Planet uses things such as Netconf/Yang and REST application programming interfaces to do that, but also command line interfaces, TL1, SNMP and OpenFlow.

The next phase for Windstream is taking this operations automation process and extending it to end customers – both business and wholesale carrier customers -- as part of an on-demand service model that will make network services more flexible.

"The goal here was to enable these same functions to end users – via an API and a portal -- and this is how we are approaching it from the ground up," Nichols says. "The longer term notion is that we are able to expose that for wholesale and enterprises customers. That continues as we move into Carrier Ethernet and SD-WANs for the same kind of framework."

Some of that is still in the planning stages -- Windstream isn't yet ready to announce when it will offer SD-WANs and it is still in the process of "productizing" its own-demand services by determining pricing models, etc. Nichols is also careful to say that on-demand options will be available in "select areas" where the bandwidth is available and configured to support that model.

Windstream did look at what other operators were doing before making its own plans, and saw that some others were starting at the network edge with virtual CPE, or going with SD-WANs first.

"For us it was more about trying to solve real-world and near-term challenges and the operational pieces are more interesting than our capex," he comments. While delivering wavelengths in an on-demand fashion over multiple vendors' gear isn't exactly easy, tackling that challenge first was pragmatic from a corporate perspective.

Further down the road, Windstream will be moving up the network stack and will get to the point of offering virtualized network functions, he adds. Blue Planet could be the orchestration platform for its NFV rollout, but Nichols shies away from stating that outright, saying Windstream is also looking to adopt an open source solution. He does credit Blue Planet with being a scalable, mature, software-driven approach that is practical today.

"At the optical layer, we don't view Blue Planet as one-stop shop SDN solution -- I don't really believe you can buy SDN from one vendor and have it be your solution," Nichols says, adding that Windstream has already incorporated an OpenDaylight-based controller from another vendor into its solution.

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

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