Alcatel-Lucent's Alwan: SDN creates new automation opportunities for service providers

Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) said that it increasingly sees software-defined networking (SDN) technology becoming a tool that service providers will use to automate their network and service delivery functions.

Basil Alwan, president of IP Routing and Transport at Alcatel-Lucent, told FierceTelecom that the vendor is working on a project to manage network functions and infrastructure in a service provider network.

"We're very, very engaged in SDN for the infrastructure side so we have a major project there," Alwan said. "In terms of managing existing infrastructure, both IP and optical, a very big part of what we're doing is using SDN over the mid- to long-term for automating, abstracting and optimizing IP and optics individually and together... [It's] a very big part of where we go here."

One area where the automation via SDN and network functions virtualization (NFV) could come in handy will be in the data center market.

"There's a real problem with data center networks," Alwan said. "You want to bring up a virtual machine and automatically to connect to your slice of the data center it's very cumbersome and it's not quick and automating in the current way is very difficult and SDN solves that very nicely."

As the data centers become more automated, SDN and NFV could help service providers more effectively respond to cloud service needs.

Alwan said that a number of changes have made the cloud become more of a reality: higher-speed access bandwidth, common IP platform and increased processing power, which allows processors to run multiple tasks.

"Those three trends gave the ability for cloud to happen," Alwan said. "Cloud in our view is the applications you want to run can run anywhere and that's a great thing in delivering applications to subscribers."

Alwan added that the dawn of new cloud services "means that the network needs to be agile."

Despite the potential of NFV and SDN, Alwan is aware that traditional hardware-based routers aren't going away anytime soon.

"No matter what happens here, you still need a super fast fabric," Alwan said. "You can have a long discussion about what is running in those nodes and get away with a simplified IP fabric [that] will pan out in the next three to five years."

Alcatel-Lucent has built a foundation to drive more automation with its launch of the virtualized service router (VSR). This product allows service providers to deploy SDN and NFV with virtualized and specialized hardware options.

Already, the vendor has signed two customer contracts and is conducting another 20 customer trials for the VSR platform.

"If you want to buy an SR router, you can buy any platform in a physical or virtual substantiation," Alwan said. "If you look at our network management system, it looks the same and you don't know if it's running in a data center or a piece of hardware."  

The vendor's moves are in line with the direction all of the major service providers are taking with their networks.

AT&T (NYSE: T) recently set a rather aggressive timeline for software enabling more of its network. Ultimately, the telco's goal is to virtualize and control over 75 percent of its network using this new architecture by 2020.

Alwan recognized that Alcatel-Lucent, which serves as one of AT&T's Domain 2.0 suppliers, can help the telco and others move toward that direction over time.

"SDN, like most technologies, there's a lot of hype, but we're settling into the phase now where we're finding those particular areas where it pays big dividends," Alwan said. "That's a big goal that John Donovan threw out in front of his own company and for the industry, but it's an interesting challenge to say 'can we do that.'"

Likewise, CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) is moving in a similar direction.

The service provider recently overhauled its core network with Alcatel-Lucent core routers and also deployed a new OSS for its back office system, which it says will allow the telco to simplify business processes with a single platform for delivering Ethernet, VPN and wavelength services.

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