CenturyLink charts its own virtualization pathway

While some service providers are working with open source groups, CenturyLink's virtualization is being developed in-house. (Pixabay)

When it comes to virtualization, CenturyLink is blazing its own trail by using software and tools that were developed in-house, according to the telco's Anil Simlot.

Simlot, vice president of virtual services development and support, spoke to FierceTelecom about how CenturyLink took pieces of the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) to build its own orchestration tool, which is called "Victor," for network functions virtualization infrastructure (NFVi).

ONAP is built out of modular components, which allowed CenturyLink, which is not a member of ONAP, to assemble Victor on top of its own software. A spokeswoman for CenturyLink said the telco was still evaluating how it would put Victor into open source, but ONAP seems like a good fit.

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CenturyLink is on its third iteration of software-defined networking (SDN) and NFV. While the telco has been able to launch new services, such as SD-WAN, and lower capex and opex, NFV initially added layers of complexity. After CenturyLink bought Active Broadband Networks two years ago, it adopted an agile IT software approach to virtualization in order to reduce or eliminate some of the complexities that were associated with NFV.

Simlot and CenturyLink have had their collective heads down as they have worked to integrate the Level 3 services and assets that the telco bought last year. A cornerstone of CenturyLink's virtualization effort is its Programmable Services Backbone (PSB), which was first launched in 2015 and then relaunched in March with the Victor software and OpenStack.

In this FierceTelecom Q&A, which was edited for length and clarity, Simlot also spoke about the lessons he's learned in regards to CenturyLink's virtualization journey and his company's participation with MEF.

CenturyLink's Anil Simlot

FierceTelecom: How is the agile IT software approach working out for CenturyLink?

Anil Simlot: We have adapted agile approaches, and a lot of our groups are actually in these quick, get things done, two week or quicker iteration cycles. It has helped us out a lot. We are working on services right now where we are actually using this agile approach to create very short cycles. After every cycle, we are able to deliver some feature set, and we are displaying those feature sets to our product people as well as our internal folks so they can provide us with real-time comments and we can keep moving along.

We are working in that manner in multiple work groups within CenturyLink and coming up with new feature functionality because of this. We launched PSB (Programmable Services Backbone) back in March, and ever since then we've been able to add more features and functionality based on the requirements we are getting from the field and from the customers themselves. That lets us enhance them and deploy them again. So we are on the cycle of going agile, but also using the feedback that we are getting from customers to get some additional features out there that we need.

FierceTelecom: The second version of ONAP's software, which is called Beijing, was released in June. Have you looked at that release?

Simlot: I have not. We have been using a tool that we call Victor that was initially built by taking some pieces of ONAP and putting our software on top of it. We have our own tool that we have built in order to onboard VNFs, and it's pretty powerful. We have not looked at what ONAP has to offer, or some other suppliers have to offer, because we are focusing on the things that we have built ourselves rather than trying to look at other stuff. We do keep an eye out on all of the open source stuff, but I haven't heard any feedback from the team on the new capabilities that ONAP has just released.

RELATED: CenturyLink's Anil Simlot on automation, SDN and NFV

FierceTelecom: Is CenturyLink a member of any open source communities?

Simlot: No, we are not, but like I said, we keep an eye on it. We don't contribute at CenturyLink. We may provide feedback and stuff like that. We are a member of MEF, definitely. Our CTO (Aamir Hussain) sits on the board of MEF, and we are heavily involved in MEF, but we are not a member of any of the open source organizations right now.

FierceTelecom: Speaking of MEF, it plans on having its Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) APIs for intercarrier orchestration approved later this year, which will allow carrier-to-carrier provisioning of services across each other's networks. Are those APIs of interest for CenturyLink?

Simlot: Thanks for bringing up MEF and LSO because I think some of the work that they are doing is really good. Especially their (program) tracks and the APIs—I think they are Sonata and Interlude—that they are building between partners. The reason why I like them is that not all services are going to be on net for us. We will have some customers where we do not have a reach to them but they want to get service from us. In most scenarios, I can have the virtualization all day long on my network and turn up service in 5 minutes, but if the other end is sitting on somebody else's network, on a partner's network, and I have no way to talk to that network and ask them to turn up that service, then we are back into this old business of 120 days to turn up services.

To get that customer experience that the VFNs and the SDN/NFV world is going to get us, it would be really neat if we can get the same experience for the customer whether they are on net or off net. I think the work that MEF is doing is really great because we need to get those APIs adopted by all the different service providers so that we can start delivering on the promise of SDN and NFV for our customers.

FierceTelecom: Given your experience with NFV, what advice do you have for anyone that is just starting out?

Simlot: I think it may be a little bit weird, but in my opinion we spend a lot of time in figuring out how to orchestrate the NFV. We need to spend even more time on how to manage the NFV once it goes out into the field. My whole approach to the way we would do NFV would be to make sure that we have a good operational support model for the lifecycle and management of VNFs as we are building the product. And make sure that we have good support infrastructure in place, and good instrumentation tools that allow us to monitor and manage the NFV. We have to make sure all of those are well defined and understood as we launch these NFVs.