For the past 20 years I have been reading and editing articles about how, at last, traditional telcos have been on the cusp of cracking the small and midsized business (SMB) market and at last being able to develop a viable strategy for a sector that has for so long promised so much but ultimately been a resources black hole.
The same problems have come up time and time again though. For most telcos, it takes too much time, money and effort, and too many people, to sign up, service and retain SMBs, which invariably end up turning to local communications services integrators to help them source what they need.
Now, though, it's just possible that service provider virtualization and cloud capabilities might be the key that, at last, unlocks the SMB market for traditional communications service providers.
That thought occurred to me as I reached the concluding pages of our recent epic report, Validating Cisco's Service Provider Virtualization & Cloud Portfolio.
That report tells the story of how a team from the European Advanced Networking Test Center AG (EANTC) validated some of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s key service provider virtualization systems in a test funded by Light Reading. (See In the Lab: Cisco Service Provider SDN Test.)
As part of the process, the EANTC team took on the role of a small business -- a café with two locations -- and went through the process of selecting, ordering and provisioning a VPN service that included a firewall, URL filter, remote access and cloud VPN with Internet access.
The EANTC team was able to do this from start to finish (that is, from order to service activation) using a web interface that interacted with the two main applications that were being validated (Cisco's WAN Automation Engine and its Network Service Orchestrator).
"Without calling any support or ordering line, using a web interface only, we created a service that included not only connectivity, but also services... From a service provider perspective, a customer created a rather complex service without involving an operations team," noted the EANTC team in the report (see pages 19 – 21).
So this wasn't just a portal for placing an order. This was an automated service configuration and provisioning system that, if deployed and marketed efficiently, could open the doors to an SMB pot of gold. Virtualization might just be about to knock down those long-standing barriers.
What makes the EANTC team's experience even more encouraging for those communications service providers (CSPs) looking for a virtualization business case is that the validation process was undertaken using a system designed for (and branded by) one of Cisco's Tier 1 operator customers: This was a virtual experience that is already very real.
Challenges remain, of course. Virtualization is not a silver bullet. The introduction of software-defined networking and virtual network functions into existing networks will be hard, but it will happen. And maybe, just maybe, in a few years' time Light Reading might be able to report that, at last, the SMB communications services market has well and truly been cracked open by the telcos.
— Ray Le Maistre, , Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading