NFV Elements

Network Services Key to SDN Strategies, Says AlcaLu's Alwan

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The New IP -- In the midst of all the tech talk around SDN, NFV, cloud and virtualization, Alcatel-Lucent's IP pioneer is warning service providers to not forget what really matters -- the services.

Super-fast configuration is now the name of the game, and it's a massive opportunity for service providers as network services become decoupled from location and infrastructure. "Everything is changing because everything is virtual and not tied to location," explained Basil Alwan, president of IP routing and transport at Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), here in San Jose Thursday. (See Basil Alwan Interview: The Road to Cloud.)

Alwan gave an insightful keynote here about how virtualization, the cloud and SDN and NFV are changing the network, but also how they are changing customer expectations. As a result of the cloud, a mix of centralized and distributed applications have emerged, Alwan said. The "apps are no longer dictated by pure economics; they are more dictated by agility," he said. They can run on the node, in the cloud or on the device. (See Alcatel-Lucent Revamps Its 4G RAN Portfolio.)

"Because of that, what was previously reasonable -- a fairly static view of an application tied to a server -- is gone," Alwan said. "We can't make any assumptions about where applications might be. Developers and customers are demanding that it's completely fluid."

For more on service abstraction, check out the dedicated NFV channel here on Light Reading.

Even network services will become abstracted from locations and physical devices. He called this a pivotal moment for the industry, noting that the networking industry has a lot of conversations with customers about the technology itself, but what's most interesting to them are the problems and challenges that can be solved. The most important initial focus should be on the service -- service velocity, service features. Making sure customers get what they want out of the network, he said, has to be job number one. (See Alcatel-Lucent Pitches Its 400G IP Gear at DCI Market.)

"Customers really crave control and visibility into their services," he said. "If you can deliver that at speed, I think you'll be surprised by how quickly that market can change."

Alwan thinks what's really exciting right now is in how SDN can make the network simpler and automated. There is a real need for this, starting in the data center, where virtual machines need to be spun up and connected on-demand.

"When I want a virtual machine, it comes up fast and is available. This is the real interesting, urgent opportunity if I'm in the business," Alwan said. "It is focusing on the services evolution, service abstraction, service philosophy. It's a game-changer."

In an effort to be simpler and more agile itself, Alcatel-Lucent will make all of its products available as virtual network functions, Alwan pledged, so that those operators that want to buy a software version can. But, he doesn't see a wholesale change over to software -- hardware and software will exist in parallel for some time, he said. (See AlcaLu: Going With the Flow.)

"The general thesis is that routing functions will get simpler, but at the edge there will be functions that make sense to keep there," he said.

That's why Alcatel-Lucent is pitching the idea of network function optimization, NFO, instead of just NFV. Service providers don't want a completely different operational model because something is virtual or physical: The services itself should look the same regardless.

"The world is changing quite a bit here," Alwan said. "For us, what it represents is not only do we have to build networking gear, not only do we have to make it faster every 18 months to two years, we also have to make multiple versions of it for new architectures. We are in a phase of networking that is more exciting than it's been for a while because there are so many moving parts."

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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