As part of its virtualization effort, BT is going full-speed ahead in regards to reducing the complexities of network operations by using software-defined networking in tandem with automation.
In Part I of this Telco Transformation Q&A, BT's Neil McRae, chief network architect, spoke about how SDN and automation are making networks and services more agile and more secure. In Part II, McRae delves into BT's use of common service models and how telemetry could be linked to those service models.
Telco Transformation: What role does SDN play at BT ?
Neil McRae: SDN for us is all about automation. Software-defined networks are very helpful when it comes to automation, and automation allow us to reduce our opex. It allows us to be more accurate and have fewer errors. It allows us to offer more complex products without the challenges of having to manage the complexity. It allows us to build services between different solutions using service chaining for example. So SDN's a critical piece of what BT's automation plans are. And ultimately, we'll end up putting many of our services into SDN, but we kind of look at it as one piece of a very big technological puzzle. And actually, probably for a lot of customers, if we do SDN right, most customers won't even know it's there.
TT: What is the overall goal for automation, and how will BT achieve that goal?
NM: Our vision -- one of the visions we have -- is this abolishment of a network operation center. So, today we have many operatives that run divisioning, do fault-finding, troubleshooting, deal with network issues day in, day out. And quite a lot of that's manually managed. Our vision is that this automation probably doesn't make that go away completely, but certainly reduces it, and also augments the capability that we have.
So, if I look at today's network, and the services that we offer, they are increasingly complex and increasingly difficult for even the best engineer to configure, to deploy and to manage. And if we have a problem with the network, it typically takes us an hour to figure out what it is, at best case, because there's so much. The network does so many things, and it's so complicated.
In terms of the agility, yes. It's being able to introduce services to customers quicker, faster, more right first time. But it's also about being able to deal with problem areas quickly and well and actually being able to automate manual solutions to customer problems so they don't even know that they have been down by switching to a backup path, or switching to a backup service, or doing something that's much more automated than what our industry has today.
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TT: While automation means improved operations and better services for customers, it also means more revenues for BT?
NM: Absolutely. Yeah, and that's an extension of the piece. The quicker we can do services for customers, the quicker we can invoice them, the quicker they pay us and the more services we can offer.
So, if I take one example: When you do a wide area network optimization, it's a six-month product cycle. But we foresee faster service trials from right now where we're able to turn that service off in a matter of moments and give them the view of what's going on in the network; who's using it, how much are they using and then propose to the customer a plan to optimize it so that performance is better for all of his end users, and the network is prioritized so that things don't report to his business.
Today, that's a very challenging prospect in terms of logistics and network, but with SDN, we can turn it on and off very quickly and get the customer to see the benefit almost instantaneously, and then follow up with a, "Would you like to buy this service, customer?" So, absolutely you gain more opportunity for more revenue, to get to that revenue quicker, and it allows the customer to do what he wants to do in a much quicker way.
TT: What is the role of the cloud in regards to SDN automation?
NM: Perhaps I'm stating the obvious, or stating what many other people are saying, but I think many, many, many companies that have traditionally built their own IT infrastructure, I personally think those days are numbered. I think that the cloud people have got such a great platform, Amazon, Microsoft and others. They've got such a great platform, that it's difficult for most companies' infrastructure teams to keep up with the features and functionality they have, and increasingly, some of the cost points.
So, my strong belief is that cloud is no longer a question but rather the answer. It's "We want to do this," and cloud has to be a key part of that.
SDN automation allows me to bring in an Amazon or an Azure into a customer's network. I can make it secure. I can put the audit requirements they usually have around it. If they were in pharmaceuticals, or medical, there are many regulatory requirements. I can automate that. I can build in the solution, and I can give them instant access to services. And indeed we are doing that today with SDN on weekly [BT] Cloud Connects. So, I genuinely feel that more and more businesses essentially want to be able to press a button for it to be there right away.
And what SDN can give us is being able to respond to that demand plus actually making it more secure for the customer so that the customer isn't concerned about putting its data up into the cloud or anywhere else. There are many features of that, of course, and I wouldn't likely have captured them all, but it's very much automation, and it's critical to ensure that that future becomes a reality.
I believe it's kind of a done deal that less people will build their own IT infrastructure and rely upon the experts out there, including BT.
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation