CenturyLink CTO sees network virtualization differently than AT&T

andrew dugan/CenturyLink
CenturyLink sees no point in designating a percent of its network as virtualized. (CenturyLink)

CenturyLink CTO Andrew Dugan is responsible for the company’s SDN and NFV platforms in addition to all his other network oversight. At the Cowen and Company event in Boulder, Colorado, this week, Dugan said he doesn’t know what AT&T means when the carrier says it’s virtualizing 75% of its core network by the end of 2020.

“I’d like to figure out what AT&T means by 75% virtualization,” said Dugan. “I don’t get it. The concept of virtualizing the core router or an optical platform, that’s a lot of cost of your network to provide services. We’re not working on virtualizing that stuff.”

Dugan said CenturyLink is focused on virtualizing systems that enable its customers to turn up and turn down services on demand, and it’s also focused on virtualization at the edge of its network. He said the company likes the benefits of putting a white box device on the customer premises and “letting a customer turn up a firewall or an SD-WAN appliance or a WAN accelerator” whenever they want.

He also put in a plug for the company’s edge compute initiative. CenturyLink recently said it has booted up more than 100 initial edge compute locations across the U.S. to provide a range of managed services and hybrid cloud solutions to its customers. The edge compute services blend compute, storage and networking capabilities into one package.

RELATED: CenturyLink draws up its playbook for edge compute services

Dugan said the edge compute platform plays into the company’s virtualization efforts, allowing customers the ability to turn up and turn down Ethernet services, increase capacity, change vLANs, and configure their services on-demand. “That, to me, is where NFV and SDN comes in,” he said. “We haven’t put a number on the percent of the network. We’re more focused on that customer enablement.”

To be fair, AT&T is dealing with a massive wireless network, which CenturyLink doesn’t have. AT&T has said it’s virtualizing its core network by converting outdated central offices and other data-center-type facilities into a modern cloud, akin to the types of clouds run by web hyperscalers.

RELATED: AT&T on the homestretch of virtualization goal

But for CenturyLink, Dugan said a virtualization platform needs to pay off in terms of delivering customer services.

“When you build out an NFV platform, you’ve got the cost of the white box, you have the cost of the management or virtualization software that runs within the white box, and you have the cost of the virtual functions themselves,” he said. “If you’re running one or two applications on premise, it’s not cheaper. The real value from NFV comes in the flexibility that it provides you to be able to put a box out there and be able to turn up and turn down services. It’s not a capex reduction…It’s a reduction in operating costs because you’re not having to roll trucks and put boxes out.”