CenturyLink aims to fully virtualize its core IP networks, data centers by 2018

CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) has set an aggressive SDN and NFV network plan, announcing that it will virtualize 40 percent of its global IP core network by the end of this year and plans to have full global virtualization of its IP core network and data centers by 2018.

Similar to its fellow telcos AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ), CenturyLink has been implementing virtualization into its network, having already built its NFV platform in 36 network and data center locations in seven countries. By the end of the year, it plans to expand NFV into a total of 44 network locations.

CenturyLink is hardly an NFV novice, having already deployed NFV technology to virtualize security features such as firewalls and a content delivery network (CDN) to distribute video through its Prism TV service.

An initial focus of CenturyLink's NFV/SDN and overall virtualization initiative will be on business services. During the next few months, the telco plans to deploy a number of virtualized data and voice infrastructure services, including virtualized MPLS routers and Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) to enable dynamic delivery of scalable services for customers.

As part of this service evolution, CenturyLink has been replacing hardware with software over its Programmable Services Backbone (PSB) to quickly deliver new services to enterprises and small and medium businesses through virtualized functions.

In March, CenturyLink announced its PSB will be mobilized by using Ciena's Blue Planet NFV Orchestrator. The PSB platform will bring SDN and NFV functions to CenturyLink's core and metro networks along with new next-generation CPE, bringing the company's networking, cloud, hosting and IT services into an integrated offering that will be accessed through a portal and set of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

Ciena is just one vendor in a broader ecosystem of partners it will use in implementing SDN and NFV in its networks. The service provider is also working with a host of other vendors, including Arista Networks, Nuage Networks and Red Hat to implement virtualization functions in its network and to deliver NFV-based versions of the vendors' current product lines.

Beginning in 2013, the service provider began implementing network virtualization and automation when it partnered with five vendors to develop what it called an open environment through common API structures, creating interoperability and enhancing the creation of applications. Later in February 2014, CenturyLink announced an agreement with Ericsson to deliver a next-generation OSS/BSS solution through a single transport infrastructure which can rapidly fulfill customer demands and create the support needed for implementing NFV and SDN services.

CenturyLink is just one of several top telcos looking to virtualize functions in its network. AT&T has set a similar plan to have 75 percent of its network controlled by software by the year 2020.

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