Data Center

CenturyLink Targets 'Six Nines' Reliability

AUSTIN, Texas -- Big Communications Event -- US telecom giant CenturyLink is aiming to improve its offering by guaranteeing customers "six nines" reliability rather than the "five nines" that has traditionally featured in telco service level agreements (SLAs).

The five nines measure basically means an operator is guaranteeing its service will be available 99.999% of the time. In a six nines agreement, the telco would provide a 99.9999% guarantee in its SLA.

Reliability is becoming an increasingly hot topic as operators introduce software and virtualization technologies into their networks and prepare to roll out new types of service. Indeed, there are doubts that operators will be able to make such SLA guarantees in a more virtualized environment.

While some operators have suggested those traditional measures may need to be overhauled in future, CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) reckons it can improve on them as it develops new data center capabilities.

"Redefining five nines is redefining them to go up to six nines," said James Feger, CenturyLink's vice president of network strategy and development, when asked how telcos were evolving the five nines proposition at last week's Big Communications Event in Austin, Texas.

"Five nines still has downtime associated with it and that is not acceptable to a lot of customers and for a lot of applications," he said on a panel session about the new-look telco data center.

Feger is not the only leading telco executive to have recently suggested that operators could improve on five nines reliability in future.

During Light Reading's "OSS in the Era of SDN and NFV" conference in November last year, Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD)'s David Amzallag challenged the industry to come up with suitable "mechanisms" for supporting zero downtime. "We don't care if the virtual machine collapses as long as the right mechanism exists to recover in zero time and with zero damage to services … We are investing a lot to have it," he said at the time. (See Vodafone Calls for End to Five Nines.)

Feger similarly points out that customer experience does not have to suffer because of network problems if the design is right. "If the apps or the network are developed appropriately then any outage should not result in an actual service impact," he said.

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While five nines might seem good enough for many customers, any amount of downtime can have major ramifications for some types of business. "I don't know that people understand the impact of a one-minute outage," said Feger. "There are customers that exist across the world where a one-minute outage is $25,000 in lost revenue from online transactions failing."

What seems likely is that operators will continue to offer traditional SLAs with their legacy services even as they begin to support so-called "cloud-native" offerings.

"There are legacy services that will see a very slow evolution to any type of NFV methodology," said Scott Sneddon, the senior director of SDN and virtualization for Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), on the same panel session featuring Feger. "There are things that require packet-level deep buffering and traffic manipulation to ensure they meet five nines and newer services you can probably roll into the cloud."

Chloe Jian Ma, the senior director of cloud market development for Mellanox Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: MLNX), is similarly hopeful the emergence of "cloud-native NFV" will allow operators to provide "always-on" services as opposed to guarantees based on the concept of five nines.

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

guydub 6/13/2016 | 8:34:18 PM
Re: Doesn't matter Actually most LD billing is done on 6 second intervals (1/10 of a minute) so six nines would be anything over 30 seconds which would be 5 billing units. So 6 nines is not unrealistic expectation
brooks7 5/31/2016 | 11:31:04 PM
Re: Doesn't matter It applies to the basic services that are tariffed.  911 is the only special case.

They are required to report any outage that equals or exceeds a T-1 capacity.  They are required to report held orders for tariffed services.  So things like UVG and E&M and Dry Copper Alarms and Pay and ISDN.

So, when they were parsing out the requirements for 5 9's it was all about fine avoidance.  That is where this stuff came from.  All of it is really OLD.

jayakd0 5/31/2016 | 10:54:14 PM
Re: Doesn't matter @Seven Doesn't it mean that 5 9s applies more to life line services like telephony (which 911 uses) and is not connected with whether the service is tariffed or not? 
brooks7 5/31/2016 | 4:05:03 PM
Re: Doesn't matter Go look up incident reports.

It applies to tarriffed services not broadband.  But it is why 5 9s exist.  Just like they get fined for not delivering tarriffed services fast enough.  Go look it up.  You will find a crap load of articles on several 911 outages.  But here is an example going back over 10 years....


Partner65311 5/31/2016 | 2:14:39 PM
Re: Doesn't matter I'd like to see where that is specifically stated with the FCC and how that relates to CTL's six-9 claim.
brooks7 5/31/2016 | 1:55:15 PM
Re: Doesn't matter Actually, in the Telecom world the telcos ARE financially responsible for outages that exceed 5 9s on an annual basis.  They get fined by the FCC and the State PUCs.


Partner65311 5/31/2016 | 1:47:34 PM
Doesn't matter Often, I see 99.whatever% and even 100%, but when you actually read the SLA, credits only start accumulating after 1 minute (99.998%), 5 minutes (99.988%), 1 hour (99.861%), etc. rendering any other number they throw out there meaningless since they're not financially bound to the figure. Until they start crediting for less than a minute of downtime, 99.9999% is inconsequential.
Mitch Wagner 5/31/2016 | 1:20:09 PM
How much downtime is that? According to my calculations, five nines of downtime is 5.26 minutes per year, figuring a year is 365.2422 days (as noted in this NASA paper). Six nines is 32 seconds. 

Or I could have just looked it up on Wikipedia.
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