CenturyLink Targets 'Six Nines' Reliability

US operator believes it can improve on traditional reliability guarantees as it evolves its network and service offerings.

Iain Morris, International Editor

May 31, 2016

3 Min Read
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.

Want to know more about cloud services? Check out our dedicated cloud services content channel here on Light Reading.

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

About the Author(s)

Iain Morris

International Editor, Light Reading

Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).

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