Ciena is world leader in packet-optical transport networks. It has also become an important player in software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) through its Blue Planet software which has been trialed by more than 20 operators globally for network and service orchestration. In this Q&A, Ciena Chief Information Technology Officer Adan Pope talks about the current state of SDN and NFV deployment, network transformation more broadly, and the challenges of introducing new architectures into legacy networks and systems.
TM Forum: How do you read the current status of SDN and NFV adoption by communications service providers (CSPs)?
Ciena: There is a lot of talk around SDN and NFV adoption with CSPs. This has translated into many proofs of concepts (POCs), 27 to be exact, for Ciena’s products. There are also a small, but growing number of production deployments. As such, I think it’s fair to say that SDN and NFV are still in the early stages of adoption. From an operator’s perspective, the POCs are technical assessments, and represent an opportunity to understand what the technologies mean to their businesses. This is important, but for a POC to really yield its full potential for an operator, it needs to include a monetizaton model.
A few key use cases require analysis of the monetization model. SD-WAN is one good example. What is important to note here is there are still a number of different services and approaches that can be taken. Orange Business Services has launched SD-WAN services and is a significant Blue Planet customer. But I’m not sure all operators have worked through the issues – around billing for example – for when they move into mass deployment. I think traction for operator SD-WAN services is growing, but we will get to a point where the operational aspects need to be better understood if we are to move into high-volume deployments. Today’s systems aren’t ready for this.
Network slicing and 5G is my second favorite use case. This is where business value can pay the bills. Carriers that find a way to create differentiated services will do better than others. It’s still very early days, but we think you’re going to need multi-domain service orchestration to enable network slicing.
TM Forum: Are there any CSPs that you see out there who are really leading the way in terms of network transformation – and digital transformation more broadly?
Ciena: We are working with couple of operators that have made some real advances. The first is CenturyLink. It’s easy to talk about greenfield deployments of new architectures and technologies, but the legacy environment of a 100-year-old ILEC [incumbent local exchange carrier] is really challenging. CenturyLink laid out a vision to become more agile and deliver Ethernet services in an automated fashion some time ago. After hitting some challenges when initially working with a number of leading systems integrators, they then selected Blue Planet as a key architectural component to provide orchestration across legacy and new services. They have now managed to launch services on-time and in an extremely automated process.
The second one is Windstream, which deployed our software to intelligently automate the delivery of gigabit wavelength services to their wholesale, enterprise, media and web-scale customers. Windstream uses Blue Planet to orchestrate services across a truly multi-vendor optical transport network. We work out how to provision and fulfill regardless of whether it is Ciena or a third party vendor’s equipment.
TM Forum: You have done a lot of work within the TM Forum on Open APIs. Where are we today in terms of the CSP industry adopting common approaches to APIs to enable the integration of third party services and technologies?
Ciena: APIs are great. But it’s what you do with them that matters. I would love it if we saw a strong uptake from CSPs because it would allow us to reduce implementation costs for our own systems. The reason that it’s not really happening yet is because of legacy systems – order management, billing, etc. It is really complicated and putting this new language in the middle of legacy systems is difficult. Ciena is leading the industry forward here, by driving the dialog across the TM Forum, MEF, ONF, ETSI and other groups, to define open APIs for simplifying management and control functions across different vendors and technologies, including legacy networks, cloud, NFV, and SDN.
We recognize that it’s the bridge between today and tomorrow that is important. We have used orchestration to do that bridging between new and existing infrastructure.
On a broader level, I don’t think we can question the benefits that technologies that we have imported from the IT world have brought to telecoms in the last five to ten years. For example, Docker containers have been crucial for us. Everything in our portfolio now is “dockerized” to give us the ability to abstract.
TM Forum: There has been some reluctance – on the part of both CSPs and their technology partners – to talk about OPEX savings that can be expected to result from automation. Where does Ciena stand on the issue?
Ciena: Packet-optical transport networks – where Ciena is extremely successful – have been built over a long period of time. There is no greenfield. All of this is enshrined in legacy support systems. Unlike voice services, we believe that transport networks are here forever. But you do need to look at the start of these networks that have been built over a period of time. Operational benefits are not where we would like to be as an industry.
In our experience with customers, focusing on the automation of these transport layers provides the quickest path to realizing SDN’s promise of OPEX savings. We are seeing customers begin there, and iterate to the final state of a converged, automated, packet optical core.
TM Forum: There has been a lot of interest in your Blue Planet orchestration platform. Is that interest being translated into orders?
Ciena: Blue Planet is a number of things. The platform is already being used for multi-domain and multi-vendor service orchestration by key customers like CenturyLink, Orange Business Services (OBS), and Windstream, as well as in multiple POCs. And we also have many customers who are gearing up to deploy a module within the Blue Planet platform called MCP (Manage, Control and Plan) that provides full fault, configuration, accounting, performance, security (FCAPS) domain control, and automation, of Ciena packet-optical networks. For these customers, it will be an incremental step to multi-domain and multi-vendor service orchestration on the same platform.