Level 3 Gives Cisco NSO Its Due

Service provider acknowledges role that Cisco's Network Service Orchestrator is playing in Level 3's SDN strategy.

August 10, 2016

4 Min Read
Level 3 Gives Cisco NSO Its Due

Two years into their relationship, Level 3 Communications is publicly acknowledging the role that Cisco's Network Services Orchestrator is playing in its Adaptive Network Control Solutions suite of services, which allow customers to control their own Ethernet service bandwidth for cloud connections and more.

In fact, the Cisco NSO, which was developed by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) acquisition Tail-F, has been part of the story since before Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT)'s 2014 acquisition of tw telecom, which first launched the Dynamic Capacity service. What it enables is a level of automated orchestration and control that Level 3 has since applied to 30,000 of its existing network devices, marking what might be one of the largest efforts to automate a brownfield network deployment and create a programmable wide-area network.

"It came along with the tw telecom acquisition, it goes back into tw's history," says Andrew Dugan, interim head of Level 3's Global Technology and IT Organization. "We had 35,000 to 40,000 network elements as a result of the tw implementation -- since then we have expanded the footprint to about 75,000 network elements. That includes expanding the footprint in North America, and also into 27 European markets."

To do the brownfield adaption, Level 3 used a Cisco Network Element Driver, or NED, to bring new elements into the automated control system as part of a programmable WAN. Level 3 then used the NSO to orchestrate the service lifecycle from activation and testing to service assurance once the service is up and running. Today about 1,500 customers use Level 3's Dynamic Capacity service to make as many as 1,000 changes to their Ethernet services each month through a customer portal, either on-demand, on a scheduled basis or triggered by network events.

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Although developed before the software-defined network was broadly defined and adopted, the Dynamic Capacity service has become part of Level 3's broader SDN approach and is being applied to other services, including its transport service offerings and its content-delivery network, Dugan says. The NSO process does all of that on a single data model. (See Level 3 Stays Ahead in the On-Demand Race.)

"Since the tw telecom acquisition, we have been integrating that workflow process," he says. "We have built an underlying infrastructure and systems foundation to do this on a flow-through basis. This is the focus of our SDN strategy. When our customers come in through a portal, we can flow it all through the same SDN infrastructure, and because we built in the underlying automation, we can apply it to Ethernet and other services."

The other services include Agile Hybrid Cloud Connectivity, which uses Ethernet services and Level 3's public cloud connection service and lets customers choose flexible bandwidth options; Optimized Data Backup and Recovery; faster delivery of new services to market and end-to-end visibility of real-time performance information on the status of networks and services through Level 3's Enhanced Management.

For Tail-f, the Level 3 experience is its largest, involving the delivery of the NSO's automation capabilities over a brownfield network. Carl Moberg, technology director at Tail-F, calls that experience both exciting and educational.

"It's both a challenge and a delight, when you get things right at that scale; it shows how you can operate the network," Moberg says. "It can be pretty astonishing but it does take a dedicated team, which Level 3 had, to push through with it at this massive scale."

Level 3 has built its systems -- including ordering system, network design and customer service inventories, to the network orchestration -- with interfaces directly with network elements, Dugan says. "Since the tw acquisition, we have been integrating that workflow and have built an underlying infrastructure and systems foundation to do this on a flow-through basis," he says. "This is the focus of our SDN strategy -- so when our customers come in through a portal, we can flow it all through the same SDN infrastructure."

One reason for publicly acknowledging Tail-f's role in enabling Level 3's SDN strategy is that the company is now making the broader push to attract new customers to its dynamic service offerings, he said.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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