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How Colt Built Its On Demand Platform

James Crawshaw

Stratus (network cloud)
In 2017 Colt looked to implement an NFV telco cloud. It had already virtualized its SD-WAN service, using Versa, exposing it to customers through the Novitas portal. However, the SD-WAN service used its own NFV Infrastructure with dedicated compute and storage that could not be shared with other virtual network functions (VNFs).

The plan with Stratus is to create a common NFVi (NFV infrastructure) that can host multiple different VNFs (firewall, WAN acceleration, etc.) from different suppliers as well as internal functions that Colt has virtualized (e.g. route reflectors for VPN and CPE functions for Layer 2 services).

Stratus will take the role of Virtual Infrastructure Manager (VIM) in the ETSI NFV architecture as well as the MANO layer. The current design is a collection of commercial components -- Netcracker for service activation, Blue Planet for SDN, Accedian for Layer 2 services -- that have been integrated. Colt has an outstanding RFP for the orchestration layer that will sit on top and form the core of Stratus. Voltolini notes: "We had assumed Stratus would be ETSI MANO based. However, some vendors are actually suggesting it should ONAP based -- a commercial wrap around the ONAP open source project."

Sentio (network intelligence)
The third and least complete of Colt's On Demand strategic initiatives is Sentio, which Voltolini admits is still in the R&D phase. Its aim is to automate service management with service modification and restoration based on closed loop automation. Sentio will use intelligent data analysis and correlation and will be powered by AI/machine learning. The Sentio project started last year and Colt is currently implementing a proof of concept.

Sentio use cases include:

    1. Network operations automation -- Colt aims to enhance its service assurance capabilities by taking non-traditional data (signal strength, power, temperature, etc.) from network elements (cards, links, etc.) to predict potential faults.
    2. Security -- DDoS, threat discovery and mitigation
    3. Customer experience -- helping customer service teams to deal with customer inquiries through the use of chat bots and quicker access to relevant information (e.g. known faults).

Inter-carrier interoperability poses an automation challenge
Like all telecom operators, Colt partners with other carriers to reach places where its lacks its own network, for instance in Latin America and Africa. To provide on-demand services to customers with office locations outside its footprint, Colt must be able to orchestrate these third-party networks. This is a challenge, as it requires the other operators to also have a similar level of automation in their networks. "There are only a handful of carriers in the world that currently offer that," according to Sabir.

Integration between carriers typically only happens where there is a large volume of business between them over which the costs of integration can be spread. This results in an IT project on both sides, including requirements, design, development, test and implementation. "If we could standardize the interfaces between carriers, we could skip the requirements, design, development, and go straight to test and implementation," says Sabir. By doing so, Colt will be able to extend the reach of its automated network services.

In 2016 Colt announced a trial of SDN interoperability with AT&T's network. During the trial the operators successfully provisioned network services between the US and Europe with SDN-to-SDN control using a programmatic API-to-API interface between the separate SDN architectures. The trial was extended in 2017 to also include Orange, with the three carriers working with the MEF and TM Forum to release the first set of standard APIs -- based on the MEF's Lifecycle Service Orchestration framework and TM Forum's Open APIs -- for orchestrated Carrier Ethernet services. Earlier this year, Colt and Verizon demonstrated a similar trial of cross-carrier automation on their production networks.

Overall, Sabir believes that the standardization effort within organizations like the MEF is making good progress and the barriers to inter-carrier interoperability are being lowered.

The need for an automation-first approach
During the past three years Colt has made tremendous progress with its On Demand platform, supported by Novitas and the emerging Stratus and Sentio initiatives. Says Voltolini: "Initially we started with 30 data centers but we have now extended the offer across our entire European and Asian footprint. Moreover, we are expanding the portfolio of On Demand offerings beyond just Ethernet services."

The automation capabilities that Novitas, Stratus and Sentio will provide will prove crucial to the company's long-term competitive position. Sabir says: "We are moving towards a fully automated world -- we are playing catch-up with the cloud providers that have always taken an automation-first approach, whereas carriers have decades of legacy that they need to resolve first."

— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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