September 18, 2014

What Does Alcatel-Lucent have to say about SDN and NFV?

In early September I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend - Basil Alwan.  I first met Basil back in the mid-1990s when we worked together to educate the marketplace on what was then an emerging technology - layer 3 switching.  Basil is currently the president of Alcatel-Lucent's IP routing and transport business unit and I used our recent meeting to get a better understanding of how Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) regards both SDN and NFV.  

Like many in our industry, ALU regards SDN and NFV as separate but related. For example, ALU sees value in a company leveraging SDN to create a more flexible network whether or not that company also implements NFV.  ALU also believes that the first SDN application that will see a lot of traction in the marketplace is network virtualization in the data center.  Basil said that early adopters have already implemented network virtualization and that a large number of companies are currently running serious projects to evaluate it.  He added that if you look out five years, you will be hard pressed to find many data centers that haven't implemented network virtualization.

An SDN use case that Basil thinks will catch on after network virtualization is the use of SDN to automate the configuration of VPNs.  While he believes that SDN can help automate the configuration and provisioning of MPLS-based VPNs, he was more bullish on the value that SDN could provide relative to automating the configuration and provisioning of Internet-based, or Over The Top (OTT) VPNs.  In order to automate Internet-based VPNs, there needs to be a zero-touch device on the customer premise and there also needs to be high speed Internet connectivity into the premise.  Then using the SDN principle of separating the control and the forwarding functions, functionality that is part of a cloud-based offering will do all of the configuration and management that is necessary to set up the VPNs.

The third SDN use case that Basil discussed is the convergence of the optical and the IP layers.  Basil believes that this use case will be the last of the three to gain significant traction in part because it is multi-vendor and in part because it will require adding more intelligence to the optical layer.  The idea behind this use case is to enable operators to run their networks hotter by bringing together knowledge of the optical and IP layers and using that knowledge to optimize how traffic is routed.

Because of its potential to reduce cost and complexity, Basil said that ALU is embracing NFV "full force" and that they are already shipping customers NFV applications such as route reflector.  While Basil believes that service providers can currently virtualize functionality such as route reflector, he has concerns about the possible impact of virtualization in those situations in which a strict SLA is being offered.  He thinks that it will take a couple of years before the industry sorts out the inherent timing and latency constraints.  Basil also has thinks that it will be a long time, if ever, before service provider virtualize functionality such as a core router that requires high levels of performance.  

I agree with Basal that we will see a number of enterprises and service providers implement network virtualization in their data centers in 2015.  I also agree with his general assertion that having cloud-based functionality to administer WANs is valuable.  However, I doubt if we will see that use case cross the chasm in 2015 and I think that integrating the optical and IP layers is a few years away.

NFV is going to be a bit trickier relative to deployment.  I think that the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has made great strides towards driving NFV.  For example, ETSI is currently driving 23 POCs.  However, I think it will take a lot of work and a lot of time to turn those POCs into revenue generating, manageable services.

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