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Cloud Strategies

Level 3's SDN Play Focused on Hybrid Clouds

Level 3 Communications is moving rapidly to incorporate the on-demand bandwidth capabilities it acquired as part of last year's tw telecom buy, and will be rolling that out across its North American network by the end of this month. The driving force is the need to offer flexible Ethernet connections to both public and private clouds in a hybrid approach, and today's announcement with Microsoft is one example of such a connection. (See Level 3 Leverages SDN for Automated Azure Access.)

But Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT) has much bigger plans for how to use the intelligent networking capability behind what tw telecom called Dynamic Network Capacity, as it tries to solve customer challenges around hybrid cloud connections, Chief Marketing Officer Anthony Christie tells Light Reading. (See tw telecom Delivers On-Demand Ethernet, Ethernet Expo 2012: tw telecom Finds the Holy Grail and Level 3 CTO Jack Waters: Network Integration Guru.)

In an interview today, Christie says conversations with enterprise IT and networking execs inevitably gets back to their need to not only dynamically control their networks -- i.e., have flexible bandwidth -- but to enable flexibility in cloud connections as well, and that is something now on the Level 3 roadmap.

This all falls generally under the heading of "software-defined networking," although what tw telecom developed was a bit ahead of the industry moniker.

"If you believe going forward that there will be a fundamental use case for enterprises that some aspect of their utility computing and their utility storage is going to be in the cloud and they are going to need to traverse between private and public cloud providers -- and we do -- then that becomes the fundamental future for what we are putting in the ground today," Christie says.


Want to know more about Level 3 Communications' strategy? Come hear CTO Jack Waters deliver a keynote address at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event on June 9-10 in Chicago. Get yourself registered today or get left behind!


IT departments want to be able to move applications and workloads from their on-premises data centers to not just one cloud, but multiple clouds, and they need to do that cost effectively and efficiently, to support seasonal fluctuations, peak loads, run-time developments, disaster recovery and more, he notes. That flexible bandwidth has to be delivered along with analytics to track network usage, visibility into their network performance and security.

Level 3 has created a Cloud Connect Solutions platform that incorporates SDN functions and what the company is now calling Adaptive Network Control, which includes both Enhanced Management capabilities for visibility and network analytics and the Dynamic Capacity developed by the former tw telecom.

Today's announcement covers use of Adaptive Network Control to connect to the Microsoft Azure cloud, but Level 3 is already working with another major cloud provider and expects to add others in its goal of giving customers the ultimate in hybrid cloud connectivity.

Enterprise customers are asking for the ability to not have two separate transactions -- one with the network and the other with their cloud providers -- that require them to scale their compute/storage and network capacities separately, Christie says. What Level 3 is prototyping right now is connectivity to a cloud service provider at Layer 2 -- the Ethernet layer -- using pre-configured templates it has created that include options such as virtual LAN tagging and bandwidth speeds, all available to its customers via a portal.

"Customers can access that and send a transaction to our network and to the CSP such that the computing, the storage and the backup resources necessary for that app and the network can be instantaneously provisioned," he says. This is based on using Metro Ethernet Forum Carrier 2.0-based multiplex UNIs into a cloud service provider using the preconfigured speeds for bandwidth, prioritization and VLAN tagging.

Right now the standards to do this don't exist within cloud service providers, and Level 3 is having to work that out individually, but Christie expects to see solutions emerge within the next 18 months for doing this through an abstraction layer or other toolkit.

This is based on aggressive work and investment by Level 3 in quickly integrating tw telecom, following completion of the deal last October. "We have spent our time wisely," Christie says. "We like to think we learned a lot through the Global Crossing acquisition on how to do things right, and what it would take to actually accelerate one product, one network and one platform."

That included a willingness to invest capital in extending the reach of the Dynamic Capacity to the entire North American footprint this month, to all of Level 3's European footprint by year's end and across regions of its Latin American footprint next year.

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

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