Bright House's Cowden: SDN, NFV will enable us to deliver automated services to SMBs, enterprises

NEW ORLEANS -- Craig Cowden, chief network officer and SVP for enterprise solutions at Bright House Networks, said that a combination of SDN and NFV will initially allow it to automate the service provisioning process for its small business and enterprise customer segments. 

Although Bright House is in the midst of being acquired by Charter Communications (NASDAQ: CHTR), the MSO runs a sizeable business services unit that serves a host of key segments such as health care and hospitality. By creating this foundation, Charter could potentially leverage it to automate services across its own business customer base.

"We have gotten into more specific use cases on how we plan to implement SDN and combine that with NFV in particular on the commercial services side," Cowden said during a breakfast panel conducted Wednesday by FierceCable and FierceTelecom, and centered around the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in New Orleans. "The more exciting piece is something called Business Services over DOCSIS (BSOD), which uses a combination of SDN to help provision a service, but also maintain state so as changes to the DOCSIS network take place over time the SDN controller can maintain the state of that."

BSOD is a Cable Labs standard that enables cable providers to leverage their embedded HFC network assets to deliver a host of advanced business services to small to medium businesses (SMBs) and larger businesses.

In addition to delivering higher speeds to compete with the telco's embedded T-1 base, BSOD services could include Layer 2 Level 3 MPLS VPNs and Ethernet services.

Cowden said that Bright House is conducting trials in its lab now and it expects to begin rolling out BSOD services to business customers next year.

"Controlling state has been what's hampered BSOD prior to SDN," Cowden said. "It will allow us to virtualize many services over a DOCSIS coax network and you can talk about advanced services when you attach that using virtualized services via NFV."

Bright House plans to take a three-phase approach to virtualize services in the business segment.

In the first phase, or what it calls pre-SDN, the focus will be on automating Ethernet services turn up and configuration for customers. While it is not using SDN controllers yet, Bright House is leveraging scripted automation via existing tools such as its configuration platform and ticketing system.

"We are using our existing tools and that really does help us to automate Metro Ethernet Forum-based E-LAN and E-LINE services," Cowden said. "It gives us a feel organizationally how to substantiate automated services so it takes our provisioning time down from one to two days to 10-15 minutes."

For the second phase, which will be implemented next year, Bright House will implement an SDN controller to provision services and maintain state.

As it substantiates the service at the customer premises it will virtualize the customer premise equipment (CPE), something that it required a separate device.

"Instead of having a second box for our customers today, which is required for our DOCSIS customers today to substantiate an Ethernet service today," Cowden said. "In the future with BSOD and with the virtualization of that CPE we can essentially provision right on the DOCSIS modem a service that's maintained via NFV back in our data center."

This means that it can save capital on purchasing another piece of hardware for the customer.

Ultimately, the combination of SDN and NFV will give Bright House the ability to deliver a host of services to SMBs, including virtual firewall, intrusion detection, and content filtering. What made these services difficult to deliver to smaller businesses was the fact that they required a number of expensive CPE.

By putting those services in the data center via NFV and using SDN to automatically and provision CPE, the MSO will be able to deliver richer services to SMB customers.

"The provisioning of these services is done in minutes and substantiate services that really in the past couldn't do in an affordable way for that lower end business customer," Cowden said. "For instance, we can do virtual firewall or intrusion detection or content filtering, which in the past would have all been expensive CPE."

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