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Verizon Goes All In with SDN

Posted by Hans Ashlock June 23, 2015
Verizon Goes All In with SDN

As service providers increasingly push toward software-defined networking, there is an industry-wide expectation for better and more efficient networks. Service providers are feeling the need to make inroads in things like NFV, SDN and cloud orchestration, yet progression in these areas can be impeded by legacy networking that lacks the elasticity to accommodate future-focused changes. 

"Progression in SDN can be impeded by legacy networking that lacks the elasticity to accommodate future-focused changes."

This lack of network agility on the part of carriers is what holds these operations back from experiencing the full benefits of SDN. The problem is that many carriers out there are burdened by departmental siloing that's a product of outmoded networking. These silos threaten to stifle progress by making inter-departmental collaboration a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Without such collaboration, agile implementation of network-boosting technologies like SDN can become out of the question. 

The key to overcoming silos and successfully deploying a virtualized compute environment is to do it in a strategic way that allows for acclimation to the new technology over time. What such a strategy can yield is an optimally functional multigenerational infrastructure - one in which legacy components are maintained seamlessly alongside new developments. This bit-by-bit approach to network development paves the road for networks that aren't only evolved, but highly sustainable. Recently, Verizon announced a comprehensive strategy for for transforming its network with SDN. A look at how this is happening - and the strategy behind it - provides a workable model for other carriers looking to make similar forward strides.

A move to SDN must be accompanied by careful strategy.A move to SDN must be accompanied by careful strategy.

Learning from Verizon's SDN adoption
Before deciding to pursue SDN, Verizon was facing an issue. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out, the major telecom realized that its network hardware solutions had become largely outmoded. With the push among other carriers - including AT&T - toward SDN solutions, Verizon Communications realized its legacy networking methods would no longer cut it in the increasingly software-centered carrier realm. 

For the SDN market as a whole, big carrier adoption of SDN is leading to a huge boom in the sector. According to the WSJ, the SDN market is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2019 - a huge leap from its $290 million 2014 figure. As Verizon head of enterprise network platforms and managed services Shawn Hakl put it, "SDN is similar to the arrive (sic) of Linux and virtualization in the data center 10 years go. This is virtualization of the network."

But the move toward SDN is easier said than done, particularly when carriers have legacy elements in silo-heavy networks to contend with. For Verizon, surmounting these challenges boiled down to rolling out an SDN deployment strategy that would ensure a slow, steady and robust transition. Here are some of the key steps Verizon took to guarantee that its move to a more software-centered network was a productive one unencumbered by network problems:

  • Companywide SDN deployment: Network silos are one of the main barriers to smooth tech deployments. As FierceWireless pointed out, Verizon took steps to limit silo issues by making sure the move to SDN happens across the entire company, including its wireless and wireline networks. The company's decision to deploy SDN for wireline in addition to wireless is significant, because as FierceTelecom reports, the business's focus in terms of its spending has largely been its wireless network. Verizon's choice to extend its SDN deployment to wireline, despite the end-of-life nature of some of its platforms, is a good example of the effort carriers should make to focus on businesswide SDN. According to Verizon vice president of network planning Brian Higgins, it's a move that makes strategic sense.

    "If you think about the wireline side, we may have a number of platforms that are end of life and that's a great opportunity to go in, and instead of putting in a brand new piece of hardware, we're taking a hard look if we can migrate that over to software," Higgins told FierceWireless. 

  • Retraining of workers: As a Business Cloud News article points out, a carrier's pursuit of more virtualized network functions doesn't just call for tech changes, but also process changes across the enterprise. If a carrier rolls out SDN but doesn't suitably prepare its workforce, for instance, then progress in the SDN realm will inevitably be stifled. To avoid running into this problem, Verizon made sure that its SDN rollout would be accompanied by employee retraining, FierceWireless reported. This retraining will center around equipping staffers with the skill sets they need to work and tackle problems in a more software-based environment. 
  • Slow, measured deployment: Verizon's move toward SDN was not a hasty decision, and the deployment itself would not be carried out with speed as the primary aim. Instead of a quick rollout of the technology, Verizon focused on setting itself up for the most successful implementation possible. What this meant was months of preparation in which Verizon collaborated with various vendors to evaluate its network and determine how the SDN move would change it. Then, Verizon began working with these vendors to chart out an SDN migration that would best meet its needs. It's a necessary internal process, according to Higgins.

    "The expectation is that we will develop internal goals that we're going to work through as we go through all those network functions via an internal plan," Higgins said. "Once we have that internal plan validated within Verizon, we'll be in a position to go public with our aspirations to try to make this migration."

Software-focused business networking calls for strategic deployment.Software-focused business networking calls for strategic deployment.

Rolling out a strategy with DevOps
​The deployment of SDN offers myriad benefits for carriers that choose to pursue it. In the case of Verizon, for instance, its shift to SDN won't only streamline network operations and improve customer self-service functions, but will also help Verizon more seamlessly roll out Internet of Things technology. As Verizon's Higgins told FierceWireless, the deployment of SDN will pave the way for the independent network scaling required to successfully regulate the data loads of IoT tech like smart appliances and street lamps. 

"Verizon is illustrative of the strategic steps a carrier must take in the process of SDN adoption."

But these benefits can only happen in a networking environment that's prepared to successfully take on SDN. For carriers looking to implement SDN, the example of Verizon is illustrative of the strategic steps a carrier must take in the process of adoption. Fortunately, there is an internal operations methodology that can play an instrumental role in this strategy: DevOps.

As the need among carriers to deploy SDN and NFV mounts, the question arises of how to roll out this long-term transition in a way that promises multi-generational, heterogeneous network harmony and that takes into account the realities of legacy infrastructure, existing personnel skills and the complexity of the large consortium of internal departments, external contractors and integral vendors in delivering service architectures to market. This is challenge that QualiSystems CloudShell - a cloud management platform - is helping carriers tackle today. As a valuable infrastructure as a service tool for carriers, CloudShell is built to enable a path to DevOps by handling multiple generations of network elements. CloudShell does this by:

  • Integrating bare metal, legacy, and virtualized infrastructure: CloudShell's cloud management is built to handle network resources at both the legacy and SDN levels. By allowing end-to-end network infrastructure environments to be offered as a service, CloudShell provides its users with production-like IaaS to speed and standardized development and testing.
  • Integration of automated certification: CloudShell's portal can not only offer infrastructure as a service, but can also be the central hub for launching automated tests as unified certifications that are linked automatically to the appropriate IaaS environment.  This further streamlines multiple working groups' productivity in an asynchronous manner.
  • Progression to continuous process: Once IaaS and test as a service (TaaS) certification is established from a portal, it is not a stretch to link these to automated build servers and achieve continuous integration and continuous delivery.

The takeaway: Widespread moves among carriers toward SDN are going a long way toward improving network agility and readying carriers for future-focused projects, including the rollout of IoT tech. But legacy networking can impede SDN deployments if a carefully considered rollout strategy is not in place. Verizon's currently in-development strategy provides a good example of what carriers must do to ease the migration. As far as implementing a successful strategy goes, a platform like CloudShell provides carriers with a production-like, network-friendly IaaS as a building block to practice DevOps and match their network's agility with agile operations.

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