The Future of the Software-Defined Carrier


By: R. Scott Raynovich

It's an exciting time for communications service providers. With the advent of virtualization and software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WAN), there's the opportunity to build a suite of IT and communications services that are delivered virtually, with software from the cloud.

The question is who will take advantage of this opportunity? The first wave of cloud-based communications services has been dominated by large IT and cloud providers such as Amazon and Microsoft. Many traditional Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are still relegated to supplying raw bandwidth, or as it is referred to disparagingly in the business -- just the pipes.

But with the stage set by NFV and SD-WAN, the industry is now ready to attack with a second wave of more sophisticated software-based communications services targeted at enterprises. These can include WAN optimization, cloud-based security, and applications policy control at the edge. Previously supplied by highly specialized hardware and appliances, these functions are migrating toward the cloud.

The future of all of these functions is to deliver them seamlessly with software, using the cloud. Nobody really wants to spend hours (or days) installing finicky proprietary hardware to deliver the latest network security service. They want to press a button and provision services by the cloud.

Key Attributes of the SDC

What are the key attributes of the software-defined carrier (SDC)? The modern provider will be able to move fast and deliver new enterprise connectivity and value-added services using the cloud. This means they will have to invest in cloud platforms that can deliver services with automated, web-based provisioning. It also means integrated billing and customer service.

As a general rule, the next-gen SDC will have these attributes:

1. Cloud-based infrastructure. The SDC must have a cloud infrastructure that supports virtualized orchestration, scale-out infrastructure expansion, and software-based control.

2. Web-based provisioning model. Throw out the paper contracts. The modern SDC should be able to deliver all products and billing in a web-based catalog, without the need for human intervention or paperwork.

3. Automated service activation. Using modern APIs and OSS and BSS interoperability, the modern SDC should be able to automatically instantiate new services through the cloud. This should include a wide range of services such as firewall, intrusion-detection service, anti-virus, policy-based control, scalable bandwidth, VPN, and other connection-based services.

4. Data expertise. Communication services have traditionally been network driven. Cloud services are data-driven. If you look at major cloud services such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, the network is a tool to support data-driven cloud services. They are equipped to scale and handle data.

What SDCs Mean for the Enterprise

The advent of software-defined services means that enterprises are rethinking how they build and purchase networks. In the past, they have leaned toward do-it-yourself (DIY), buying the necessary bandwidth and leasing or buying equipment and software to build the private network. But just as the cloud made "renting" software easier, the move to SDCs will open op opportunities to acquire services through the cloud, rather than managing them on the premises.

Cloud services or software-as-a-service (SAAS) is nothing more than a leased software model. The same goes for infrastructure-as-a-service (IAAS). With the arrival of SD-WAN, NFV, and cloud security services, enterprise CIOs and IT specialists are going to increasingly look at managed services to build their networks. It's faster, requires less hassle, and will offer them more opportunities to plug in the necessary network functions and software they need, on demand.

This Tech Primer was sponsored by Cato Networks