When network operators look toward the future, what many of them see are networks based largely on Carrier Ethernet, software defined networking and the cloud. What this means for the industry was a key theme of the Metro Ethernet Forum’s GEN14 Conference in Washington, D.C. this week. On hand were several network operators that already are making progress toward a Carrier Ethernet-, SDN- and cloud-focused future.

For example, Comcast has embraced a cloud approach to its set-top boxes with the goal of being able to implement software changes more quickly and easily. Functionality such as the program guide, DVR recording, and “pretty much everything but the volume control” now resides in the cloud, explained Rob Rockell, vice president of regional engineering for Comcast. Rockell noted that the company also wanted to move key functions to the cloud so that they could be accessed from devices other than the TV such as tablets or other mobile devices.

Lumos Networks, a regional fiber network operator based in Virginia, serves a lot of large business customers – and as Lumos CTO Craig Drinkhall explained, those customers sometimes look to Lumos to develop capabilities for them because the company is viewed as more nimble than large national carriers.

One of the capabilities Lumos has been asked to develop is to provide bandwidth on demand for mobile backhaul networks to accommodate incidences of heavy traffic such as when end users were downloading Apple’s newly released Apple iOS8 software. Customers also are looking to enable bandwidth to a data center to be increased automatically when they turn up a cloud service or move a large amount of data from one data center to another – and that means they want outside systems to be able to trigger functionality through an application programming interface into Lumos operations and business support systems.

Ethernet and SDN – and LSO
Lumos customers aren’t the only ones seeking that sort of capability. In fact, that capability is in such demand that the MEF has coined a new term for it – lifecycle service orchestration, or LSO.

Important considerations involving LSO include:

  • Work will have to be done to create a system for controlling which network operator or cloud provider partners are authorized to use which APIs, noted Stephan Pelletier, director of product management for Oracle Communications.
  • It will be critical for systems controlling LSO to visually depict the systems they are controlling, commented Steve West, chief technology officer for Cyan.
  • The cost of fully integrating operations and business support systems will be 10 times greater than the cost of purchasing numerous individual systems, noted Michael Kearns, CEO of SDN developer Amartus. But several stakeholders said it will be a necessary cost of doing business.
  • Drinkhall noted that one of two major initiatives underway at Lumos is middleware for its OSSs so that when the company has a decision about how systems will interconnect they will be well positioned to implement that vision by “getting the middleware to do the orchestration.”

Several GEN14 presenters said they expect to see network operators initially coupling bandwidth on demand with the cloud on connections between data centers – a relatively small universe in comparison with end user connections. Some companies, including data center operator CoreSite, already have taken that step, noted Chris Purdy, CTO for another SDN software provider CENX.

Juniper Director of Product Marketing Steve Shaw summed up the way the industry seems to be approaching SDN. “Dream big, start small,” he said.

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