In the second part of this Q&A, CenturyLink's Eric Barrett describes how the company's SD-WAN service fits in with its overall NFV strategy, and provides more details on how it works.
In the first part of the Q&A, he discussed CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL)'s partnerships with broadband providers such as Comcast, Charter and Cox Communications, and why multi-tenancy was key for CenturyLink's SD-WAN service that launched last month. (See CenturyLink's Barrett on Why Customers Are Clamoring for SD-WAN and CenturyLink Throws Hat in SD-WAN Ring.) Barrett's answers were lightly edited for clarity and length.
Telco Transformation: Can you describe the options for CenturyLink's SD-WAN service?
Eric Barrett: We'll size what you need, put the underlying network in place and then put either a "private" or "premium" package on top of it, which is basically the SD-WAN bundle price. We offer two options, private and premium. Both of those include the hardware on a monthly rental price, the software that goes on that device, the management of that, the director and controller components that you need, the front-end portal and the management of all that.
For private, what that means is, you're configuring that network to only be a private network, so even if it's a broadband Internet connection, you can't use local Internet. A lot of customers have requirements for that.
The second option is premium. It includes all of the same things as private, except that we turn on a local firewall so that you can have Internet from that local connection, and so you can have private and public access all from the site. We put that together into those packages. One of those two packages is placed on top of the bandwidth, whether that be broadband or your MPLS network at that location.
TT: When you talk about hardware, what are you using?
EB: Right now, we're using an X86 virtualization to a prem device. We're running it on a virtualized device at the prem. Now, we'll expand what we're doing today there, but we've got a good option now that's working, but it's a fairly generic device.
Then we will tie that in on what we call our PSB, our programmable service backbone. That eventually is where the director and controller infrastructure will reside, and just become another NFV function in our own NFV pods. Right now, we're running on separate servers in the initial phases, and then we'll pull them into the same orchestrated platform that we're building on the PSB. PSB is our name for our own NFV pod that we've built 40 of already at the top level.
It eventually will just become a part of that platform, although we're running it as dedicated service while we learn some lessons in the interim.
TT: Can you talk about the software part of SD-WAN?
EB: The software itself is, I think, the big difference here. Really, when you get to the heart of what that software's doing, and what it's providing, it's a bunch of NFV functions. It's a virtual router, a virtual optimizer, a virtual firewall, a whole bunch of functionality. All of that then feeds into director controllers that analyze all of that data, and make it a nice portal view that says, "Here's what's going on in your network." I think that component of it was a really big differentiator as well.
TT: After the order is placed, how long does it take to turn the SD-WAN service up?
EB: It depends because there are so many underlying network scenarios there. If it's a new broadband built, meaning we're putting in a new broadband connection and SD-WAN on top of it, our goal there is to keep it under T1 timelines for delivery. That's under the 35-day window, but we think the limiting factor there is going to be what the broadband providers have there, or what we have there. If you already have connectivity in place, this is very simple. We just get the box out to you, and download the software to the box, and make it aware of the network, and it's instant. That one's easy.
If it's already an existing MPLS network, putting the device over it is the same kind of deal as if you already have existing broadband. The limiting factor is still going to be the underlying network. The reason I'm putting that out there is that we did learn that with a lot of these broadband providers, including ourselves in a region where we're the broadband provider, sometimes it requires builds that do take longer. I think that's not a "just-us problem," that's an "across-the-industry problem."
TT: So once it's rolled out, is it available across the US, or is it available only in certain areas?
EB: The director and controller infrastructure really doesn't have to be local, although you want it regionally dispersed, and you want redundancy and all that. We have that in the first phase, so in theory we could provide it globally based on the infrastructure that we have, from a software perspective. We can provide all of the services we've mentioned in the US, broadband, the management, software, the device, the controller, the director, all of that, so in the US is really what we're launching here.
Internationally, if you need us to do the broadband aggregation and all of that, we're still working through relationships there. We're saying right now Q1, but truthfully, if it's the right scenario, we can piece stuff together using more of some of the builds that we've done before for international. We have aggregator partners that we can work with to do that, but we didn't want to complicate this first [off]. We thought it was important to try to get it right, and we didn't want to put in any caveats for international, so we just decided to push that back to a later phase.
TT: You wanted to get SD-WAN out of the door here in the US, but it sounds like you have big plans on the roadmap?
EB: We do plan to expand as part of that PSB build that I mentioned. We already have, I think, nine PSBs internationally, and so we'll build a director and controller infrastructure internationally. We're going to expand those broadband provider relationships. We're actively working on that now. Then we've got some things that have to be worked out around device delivery. All of that's in the works now, so I'm confident that that's going to be a big part of our overall value proposition.
We're taking an agile approach here, though. Our customers are very interested in knowing where we're at and wanting to do proof-of-concepts with us. So we figured this was a great way to get this out, and just continually improve it over the next couple of years.
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation