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Digital Transformation: Telcos Face the FutureDigital Transformation: Telcos Face the Future

How MEF's work impacts telco businesses, SD-WAN and digital transformation, from the perspectives of AT&T, PCCW and Verizon.

Stan Hubbard

December 27, 2018

8 Min Read
Digital Transformation: Telcos Face the Future

Telcos are looking to build, agile assured and orchestrated communications services for the digital economy, and those goals were in focus at the recently wrapped MEF18 event in Los Angeles.

In the second of a two-part series, MEF18 sponsors and key members of the organization discuss how MEF's work impacts their business, SD-WAN and the digital transformation. (For part one, see Digital Transformation: Telecom Executives Sound Off .)

Speaking with MEF were Roman Pacewicz, chief product officer, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T); Shahar Steiff, AVP New Technologies, PCCW Ltd. (NYSE: PCW; Hong Kong: 0008); and Eric Cevis, senior vice president and group president, Verizon Partner Solutions.

MEF: How important is the role of MEF, including the MEF 3.0 global services framework, in addressing your business pain points and driving transformation?

Pacewicz: MEF is very important, especially at this point where inter-carrier APIs are defined. This will help smooth the interactions between carriers, driving toward automation, and ultimately deliver a better customer experience.

Steiff: MEF is well positioned to lead the efforts of developing a collaborative approach. It has a large SP membership, it has developed the technical definitions of connectivity services that include both intra-carrier and inter-carrier options. It has developed the LSO reference architecture and inter-carrier process definitions which are two of the three fundamental building blocks that drive transformation. With the right focus, MEF is in a position to lead the industry towards collaboration. For that, MEF needs to re-focus its efforts on building an industry-wide unified information model and enhance the LSO architecture to address all three building blocks for services: Connectivity, Storage and Compute.

Cevis: Automating end-to-end service ordering, provisioning and assurance is important to our business. MEF 3.0 allows us to interoperate with other operators to accomplish these goals.

MEF: How important is the ability to orchestrate dynamic SD-WAN, Carrier Ethernet, and other services across multiple provider networks?

Pacewicz: There is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on what a company's site types and needs are, hybrid connectivity is essential. It allows customers to pick the WAN configuration for each site type that optimizes performance and cost, while focusing on delivering the best experience for their employees and customers.

Companies combine MPLS or dedicated Internet connections and pair it with a cheaper shared Internet connection to balance reliability and cost. That configuration coupled with SD-WAN lets the customer dynamically choose which of the WAN connections to use.

Steiff: It is evident that even the largest carriers rely on resources that are operated by other carriers. Orchestration of services that are limited to the organic offering of a carrier does not yield the commercial benefits of transformation. Thus, the ability to orchestrate services across multiple provide networks is critical to the success of transformation of each and every carrier, big or small. One needs to keep in mind, though, that SD-WAN is not a telco-service. It is an OTT service that is trying to overcome the inability of the telco industry to align around a unified development method towards delivery of managed services. Once the telco industry has developed the ability to orchestrate and manage services across multiple domains, SD-WAN will become obsolete. I view it as an interim solution that fills the void caused by telcos' lack of ability to develop a collaborative multi-domain federated orchestration approach.

Cevis: We believe that cross-carrier network orchestration is extremely important, which is why we worked so hard to pull together our proof of concept demonstration with Colt Technology Services Group Ltd in London earlier this year, the first time that two-way inter carrier SDN network orchestration was showcased anywhere in the world. We were able to demonstrate near-real-time bandwidth changes in each other's production networks, marking an important step in enabling real-time cross-carrier automation.

Next page: Singing about Sonata

MEF: Do you have plans to adopt LSO APIs to orchestrate services across multiple provider networks and/or over technology domains within your own network?

Pacewicz: Yes, AT&T plans to adopt the LSO Sonata APIs. MEF has played an important role in simplifying connectivity services across different service provider networks. Their Sonata SDK, coupled with ONAP from the Linux Foundation , creates a common framework for virtualized, software-defined and interoperable networks. The LSO Sonata SDK and APIs are a good proof point of their vision and the effort of the teams involved. AT&T is proud of the contribution we have made to the execution of this vision for next-generation networking.

Cevis: Yes, we do consider using LSO APIs to orchestrate services across our partners. This is one area we are working on with the MEF: advancing the development of industry standards, in particular inter-carrier business and operational LSO (lifecycle service orchestration) APIs, will accelerate the availability of this cross-carrier orchestration flexibility from many more partner networks.

MEF: Does your company offer or plan to offer managed SD-WAN services? If you currently offer SD-WAN, how has your service resonated with customers?

Pacewicz: We think networking should be simple and customizable for every company, and we offer SD-WAN as part of our edge-to-edge portfolio, and it's the capstone of our vision for software-centric networks that meets specific needs for businesses -- application, performance and reliability. We're currently working to deploy SD-WAN in more than 28,000 locations around the world, making us the largest SD-WAN provider globally. We're delivering on our vision to help businesses be more efficient, process more data and run more applications than ever before.

The AT&T SD-WAN solution works in conjunction with AT&T FlexWare. The AT&T SD-WAN solution is a VNF (virtual network function) that is hosted on the AT&T FlexWare device in either a network-based or over-the-top option.

  • For the SD-WAN network-based solution, there is a corresponding network gateway VNF deployed in network cloud nodes. These gateway VNFs are deployed globally in these nodes and connect to AT&T’s global MPLS backbone.

  • For the over-the-top option, SD-WAN functionality is deployed in FlexWare devices that are deployed at every customer location.

Cevis: Yes, Verizon launched the first globally managed software-defined wide area network service in 2015, and an SD-WAN service for its wholesale customers in November 2017. The SD-WAN solution is designed to help Verizon's wholesale customers better control network operational costs and improve bandwidth efficiency, while also maintaining high levels of performance for critical applications -- all without sacrificing security or data privacy.

The solution essentially gives enterprises the best of both worlds -- the power of the Internet and the performance and reliability of a private IP network -- to help them keep up with the continued growth of network traffic (due to SaaS applications, cloud migrations, video and IoT and more). SD-WAN improves bandwidth usage and enables the network to act as a sensor to enhance delivery of applications.

MEF: How do you see customer adoption and use of SD-WAN evolving over time (for example, hybrid networking approach, complete shift to SD-WAN, security and other valued features, SD-WAN hosted on uCPE, etc.)

Pacewicz: There is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on what a company's site types and needs are, hybrid connectivity is essential. It allows customers to pick the WAN configuration for each site type that optimizes performance and cost, while focusing on delivering the best experience for their employees and customers.

Next page: RIP SD-WAN

We offer SD-WAN on our virtualized network function platform, AT&T FlexWareSM. It works as either an over-the-top option, or with a gateway VNF that connects to the MPLS backbone for a network-based approach.

Steiff: It very much depends on the ability of the telco industry to align towards a federated orchestration approach that allows delivery of managed services across multiple networks. If we succeed in that task, SD-WAN will soon after become a thing of the past. If we fail, customers will bypass the telco operational bottleneck and adopt OTT solutions such as SD-WAN.

Cevis: As applications are virtualized and migrated to the cloud, SD-WAN enables companies to build overlay networks, and extend security functions to cloud centers quickly while managing performance to these applications. Many customers are just beginning to explore the potential of SD-WAN, but we do expect that we will see how they use the solution evolving over time. We don't expect to see a one-size-fits-all approach though, the beauty of the solution is that it can support however an organization wants to organize its infrastructure, so we expect to see all of the items listed above used in customer networks over coming months.

MEF: Of the work that MEF has done, what has been the most impactful on your business? What challenges still need to be addressed and how is MEF helping you address them?

Pacewicz: MEF's development of standard service definitions has been most impactful to Verizon and the industry.

Continued definition of other LSO APIs such as the Cantata API, the enterprise customer to service provider business application interface [has also made an impact].

Steiff: It is obvious that MEF CE2.0 certification is by far the most meaningful impact MEF has had on our business. The main challenge is development of a federated multi-domain orchestration framework based on an industry-wide information model, standard processes, standard reference architecture.

Cevis: This work has been instrumental in the global adoption and growth of Ethernet services. MEF is now similarly leading the development of service definitions for other key services, including SD-WAN, IP and Optical Transport. All of these service definitions are providing the foundation for important ongoing work in MEF to define the APIs for ordering/provisioning services and enable the full orchestration of services.

Service assurance, testing and remaining service configurations over Interlude should be addressed. The OAM for SD-WAN should be completed. In addition to SD-WAN, definitions and OAM of other virtualized services should be worked out.

— Stan Hubbard, Director, Communications & Research, MEF, and MEF18 Program Director, is a communications professional with more than 20 years of experience in industry analysis, forecasting, strategic marketing, and event programming.

About the Author(s)

Stan Hubbard

Director, Communications & Research, MEF

Stan is a communications professional with more than 20 years of experience in industry analysis, forecasting, strategic marketing, and event programming. In 2013, he joined the MEF, where he is directing program development for MEF global networking events, managing industry analyst relations, and developing research and other initiatives to help accelerate MEF 3.0 adoption and LSO development. Prior to the MEF, Stan was a Senior Analyst at Heavy Reading for 9 years where he focused on carrier Ethernet services and network equipment markets and SDN. He chaired about 20 major Light Reading technology events. Before Heavy Reading, Stan was the director of market intelligence at Ciena. Hubbard holds a B.S. in political science from Texas Christian University and a Master's in international diplomacy and security from The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston, MA.

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