While CenturyLink was among the first service providers to implement SDN and NFV, it's currently working on reducing the complexities in its network, which the telco's Bill Walker, director of network and cloud architecture, said could be partially achieved through improved automation and orchestration.
CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) is on its third implementation of NFV and SDN in its network architecture.(See CenturyLink: Simplifying the Path to Virtualization.)
In part one of this Q&A, Walker also spoke about the company's NFV journey. In the second installment, Walker talks about SD-WAN while the final installment addresses open source groups.
Telco Transformation: When did you first start using NFV at CenturyLink?
Bill Walker: We started before the ETSI effort even started. We launched around 2013. Of course, we chose the path of least resistance that everyone seems to see, which is the CPE type services. Something that has a high turnover where we're deploying new stuff. It wasn't a brownfield [deployment] of replacing old stuff. It was a new way of doing something that we already had. That was the foundation of our network-based security systems, which continue to grow.
TT: What were your goals then and how have they changed now that you are on your third implementation of NFV?
BW: Originally we all thought it's going to save money, and so on. But it's really hard to finance future savings by having current spend.
We very quickly realized that new cash, new revenue and new services were going to be where the easiest spreadsheet to-do is. That's where it made the most sense. Where we're going to spend money anyway is where we can switch the investment and do things differently with NFV than we would have by buying more black boxes.
TT: What role do NFV and the cloud play in regards to automation at CenturyLink?
BW: Automation and orchestration are two totally separate things. Automation is fairly easy. Orchestration is very difficult. We had a little advantage there. We acquired a public cloud company -- Tier 3 that is now CenturyLink Cloud -- several years ago. We had not just people with experience and knowledge, but we also had some of the tools that we could try to work at NFV from a cloud view as well as from a legacy network view transformation. The tools aren't a 100% interchangeable, but the experience and the mindset actually are pretty beneficial.
TT: CenturyLink has said it's reducing the complexity of its network; how does automation enable that?
BW: Automation plays into it and you can't have orchestration without automation. You have to be able to automate the specific tasks or the intents that you're trying to deploy in the network.
The orchestration above that is nirvana. That's where we all want to be. That's the "why;" putting together business offers and the context of what does the customer have as far as capabilities. If you come in and you want some triple-play, quad-play business service -- SD-WAN on top of a connection -- I can automate turning on the port and looking for your ONT [optical network terminal] on the other end of the connection. But it can come back and say "Oops, you're fiber only" or "I'm sorry you're copper only." Then I have to figure out what kind of speed I can support. Then I have to figure out how to put in MPLS, or to put in an SD-WAN, or to put in a firewall, or whatever is in that bundle onto your package, and stack 'em together. That stacking and multi-service orchestration is really hard. Linear automation is fairly easy.
The problem is if you bought a bundle and I can only do a 1 Meg DSL service because of where you live, then I can't really sell you a gig service. Figuring out the combinations of permutations is what makes orchestration really hard.
Get real-world answers to virtualization challenges from industry leaders. Join us for the NFV & Carrier SDN event in Denver. Register now for this exclusive opportunity to learn from and network with industry experts –
communications service providers get in free!
TT: When you say orchestration, isn't that more about SDN?
BW: Nowadays, I think of it as business-level orchestration. What do I actually sell the customers from that front-end portal? What's in the combination? What's in the offer that I'm selling customers? If I have an existing circuit, adding MPLS is fairly easy. If I have a cloud virtual data center and a branch office, it gets a little more difficult. When you start to look at the permutations of on-site, off-site, clouds, colocation, MPLS, and SD-WAN, what the customer is trying to do at a business service level is to break all of that down into the technical components -- physical and virtual -- and then actually deploy it. That is where we spend a lot of our effort.
TT: Where is CenturyLink at with NETCONF and YANG models?
BW: We really want that to mature. It's one of those promises that's going take some time. With YANG models, especially with NETCONF, we would love the vendors to not be as proprietary as they have been in the past. We see a lot of progress in that space, but we're by no means bringing up purely NETCONF-based connections to vendor equipment. We can use NETCONF ourselves internally to build those models of network connections as part of that orchestration and send the intent southbound using NETCONF and some of the other similar technologies. But today we're not specifically talking NETCONF directly to any equipment in my domain.
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation