As an industry, we talk a lot about the latest technology and investments in cloud and network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networks (SDN) in terms of improving the operator's network and business model. Yet for business customers, what can they actually expect to see in terms of new cloud services?
Business customers that have replaced legacy PBXs and related maintenance contracts with unified communications as a service (UCaaS) can already see what's possible. Company administrators and employees now have access to portals that allow them to change user preferences and features, forward calls to mobile devices, change call routing, etc. Even the training time required to bring employees up to speed with a new UCaaS system has been greatly reduced with interfaces that are intuitive and easy to use.
Mobile working has also improved by making it easier for employees to use the "same communications tools" on their mobile phone as in the office, and even to make mobile calls as if using the office phone. This is progress: Companies can buy a cloud communications service and "pay per feature set" across fixed voice, mobile, IM, presence, video, etc., depending on employee roles and change profiles in real-time via the portal as requirements change.
What about networking and being able to buy wide-area networks (WANs) as a service? Networks are slower to change because of the complexity of local access and core networks, and because operator networks are still in the process of being centrally virtualized and IT systems upgraded and integrated.
Yet we are seeing service providers starting to roll out business network services based on SDN, NFV and software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) services. SD-WANs give customers the ability to build a "modular network," where resources can be easily managed centrally and bandwidth changed through a customer portal to reflect changing business and application needs. Enterprise admins have a single view of the network and can manage resources regardless of whether underlying links are dedicated or broadband, MPLS or Internet VPN. Services also come with sophisticated network/bandwidth management and monitoring tools.
This means that businesses will be able to buy networks that enable dynamic bandwidth changes, bandwidth sharing across sites, dynamic class-of-service profiles and virtualized firewall, load balancing, WAN acceleration and routing functions that can be customized for each enterprise site. This will finally represent true cloud network services, and a real benchmark for business customers.
This blog is sponsored by Huawei.
— Sandra O'Boyle, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading