Agility, Services, and Automation: Making the Leap to Services Defined Networking


Spotlight on Networking Innovations |

Today’s communications service providers (CSPs) are able to handle ever-growing bandwidth demands without increasing Capex by leveraging advances in aggregating, routing, and transmitting network traffic. Their more pressing challenge is on the services front, from competition, substitution, and the inability to maximize revenues, concerns which reduce the top line and restrict their ability to maneuver.

What CSPs need is the agility to offer services quickly and efficiently, enabling them to increase revenue by capturing new customers and to reduce churn by offering existing customers new services as they become available.

And the competition is fierce: the  three largest webscale service providers  (WSPs), AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud, already own a massive 66% of the global cloud market. They have transformed business computing, moving IT structures into the cloud, and are now offering high bandwidth services that connect business locations to the cloud, with link speeds ranging from 1G to 100G, as well as dedicated wavelength services.

In many cases, WSPs offer these services directly, over a dark fiber infrastructure. AWS alone boasts over 275 points of presence globally, although they still mostly collaborate with large CSPs to deliver the services. This is where the squeeze comes in.

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At the low end, the CSPs provide basic transport, getting bottom dollar while the WSPs make all the margins. At the high end, the WSPs repackage and resell CSP connectivity services, often bundling them with their cloud services. The CSPs make better margins, but lose their contact with the end customers. Worse, they will likely lose large chunks of those revenues in the future as the WSPs build out and move business customers to their own network infrastructures.

Numerous industry segments rely on high bandwidth and reliable communications as an essential part of their business. In theory, these industries could turn to CSPs to fulfill these requirements, but in practice, they build private networks to satisfy many of their communications needs and control performance and economics. Private networks are tailorable to specific business needs and first costs typically pay back within a few years compared to CSP services. Ongoing network management is often contracted to system integrators.

These private networks are a huge missed revenue opportunity for the CSPs. This gap will likely continue to grow as they incorporate new technologies like 5G and IoT. System integrators devoted to specific industry segments will work with the WSPs to create even more customized communications solutions and CSPs will be left with low dollar dark fiber infrastructure revenues, and only smatterings of higher margin managed communication services.

On the consumer side, communications services have traditionally been shaped to meet basic needs like standard and higher speed Internet access, and limited or unlimited mobile data. Today’s consumers require more complex offers for home working, real-time gaming, experiencing virtual life within an AR/VR metaverse, and more.

This market is waiting to be stratified with a range of services offering varying guarantees on bandwidth, latency, and availability. CSPs who take the plunge and begin to offer these options will have access to massive upside revenue potential. But in order to do so, they will need to re-engineer and optimize their networks to be service-driven, providing the agility and capabilities to maximize profitability, and not just minimize cost.

The three key pillars to this ability for service providers to automate and optimize their networks to drive value from their existing investments, and gain the ability and agility to quickly deliver new revenue-generating services are: Automation; Optimization; and Openness.

That’s the approach we at Ribbon are taking with our IP Wave framework, which is designed to create service-driven IP Optical networking solutions that enable service providers to address major network and operational challenges by building, deploying, managing and future-proofing their multi-layer data and optical networks.

These solutions fuse optimized hardware and automation software within an open architecture to give service providers the agility they need to rapidly create and deliver innovative services. Additionally, this complete offering delivers advanced IP routing, Optical Transport, and Automation and Orchestration software, all supported by world-class professional services.

IP Wave software enables service providers to automate operational processes gradually and at their own pace with a combination of analytics, workflow engines, and closed loop processes. It also delivers practical automation, from human-assisted to intent-driven, while supporting multi-domain, multi-vendor environments.

The last few years have shown exponential growth in the number of different participants that can be involved in a single service, adding complexity to the network, and creating new demands on network management, making it more important than ever to have the right tools to guarantee delivery and QoS.

In fact, this new world demands a harmonized approach between network hardware optimized for the service being delivered, and ‘smart’ network software automation.

Looked at another way, this means that the services layer and transport layer must understand each other. The two must be in lock step, synchronized and acting as one in order to maintain agreed service standards for every service being carried. This level of service delivery requires an orchestration system that provides network and service integration, automation, and end-to-end control. Too often today, the transport, or IP, part of the network has no idea of the requirements of the service that it is carrying. It cannot hope to fulfil service specific requirements because it has no visibility of them and is little more than a dumb A to B pipe. That is a network no longer fit for purpose for the services being developed now.

Software defined networks (SDN) have become a popular topic in recent years. The concept has been that with the greater use of software within networks, new services or upgrades could be rolled out more efficiently and much faster than in traditional, hardware-centric, network environments. Perhaps it is time to re-assess what SDN really means because as software begins to dominate in the delivery of specified services, then maybe what we are witnessing is the emergence of networks defined by the services they are delivering.

Services Defined Networking

Focusing on services provides the context for SDN to deliver network functionality that fits the specific service being carried. Service defined networks are fit for purpose networks. They rely on communication and comprehension between the service, transport, and orchestration layer. The goal of such a network is to deliver software that is able to adapt to the business needs of the customer with service requirements “pushed” down to the underlying network elements.  And while the control software might be best suited to a cloud-native environment, it is the integration, automation, and understanding between the network layers that ensures the services are delivered consistently and to specification.

It is unlikely that one company will always supply all three pieces of this network puzzle, but understanding all three pieces of the puzzle and being able to integrate them so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts is non-negotiable.

The truth is that the network, and the network technology, has changed beyond all recognition – adding complexity, capability and flexibility to the range of services and delivery methods at its disposal. Yet, as the old adage goes, the more things have changed, the more they stayed the same.  Today’s networks still primarily focus on guaranteeing delivery of the service from point A to point B. With IP Wave, we recognize the network has to change, which will require an understanding of the services it is carrying and an integration between hardware, software, and orchestration. In a way, IP Wave changes SDN from Software Defined Networking to Services Defined Networking.

This article is published inside the January 2023 edition of Disruptive Telecoms.