Editor’s Corner—For Calix, transforming to a software-centric strategy is the way forward

Calix is securing its future by laying out a sound platform for software transformation.
Sean Buckley, FierceTelecom

Calix may have started out as a broadband hardware access vendor, but it’s clear that the company’s morph into a software-based company reflects a desire to be part of its service provider customers' journey to transition their broadband networks from dumb pipes to virtualization pathways.

While the initial use of software-based elements like SDN and NFV had an eye toward simplifying business services delivery, new network designs such as Central Office Rearchitected as a Data Center (CORD) illustrates service providers want to virtualize their last mile networks.

Carl Russo, CEO and co-founder of Calix, said during a recent press and analyst event the company has positioned itself in the software domain to be agnostic to the underlying hardware.

“Calix was founded as a wireline access systems company but we’re now a communications software and services company,” Russo said.  

At the heart of Calix’s approach is its AXOS (Access Extensible Operating System), a Linux-based network operating system and software platform for the access network. AXOS allows for software-defined access where all software functions move without relying on the underlying hardware and associated chipsets.

One example of this trend was the introduction of its AXOS Subscriber Management Module, which allows carriers to collapse aggregation routers and broadband network gateways in the network, with that functionality replaced with an AXOS software module. Municipal broadband provider Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) is deploying it on a NG-PON2 platform, for example.

Multiple carrier benefits

Whether they go directly with Calix or another competitor like Adtran, which has also been touting its own software defined access (SDA) vision, service providers are starting to take advantage of these new approaches.

Two of the most notable shifts have happened at AT&T and CenturyLink, which are applying CORD to their last-mile networks.

CenturyLink is applying CORD initially to improve DSL service broadband service delivery times. It's part of a broader effort to migrate to a software-based network architecture. Already, CenturyLink has implemented SDN and NFV technology into 60% of its major points of presence (POPs) as of the end of 2016.

Additionally, CenturyLink is tying its G.fast deployments to an underlying software-based SDN platform that give it more flexibility in providing services. By leveraging Calix's last-mile gear and software, CenturyLink created an orchestration platform that would enable it to more rapidly provision G.fast services.

The telco also sees potential for software-based elements to be part NG-PON2 transition. For example, CenturyLink could use software-based elements to differentiate wireless backhaul services, while developing APIs to help a wireless operator virtualize functions like baseband units.  

AT&T, alternatively, is eyeing CORD to improve GPON deployments. In August 2016, AT&T began a field trial that uses an open vOLT application that runs as part of the ON.Lab CORD platform.

For AT&T, the ability to use more virtualized functions in its GPON network is all about accelerating scale. The provider has set a goal to reach 12.5 million homes with FTTH services, with plans to reach 6 million of those homes by the end of this year.

AT&T and CenturyLink are not the only carriers that have embarked on an SDN architecture movement for their network.

Windstream, while not as far as ahead as AT&T and CenturyLink, is making progress on the SDN front. The service provider recently released its SDNow (Software Defined Network Orchestrated Waves) for wholesale content and service provider customers. Windstream has not announced software-based approaches for its last mile network yet, but it could leverage Calix’s AXOS to accelerate its VDSL2 service roll out via its Project Excel initiative.

A necessary change

Seeing all of the major service providers moving in a software-defined direction means that Calix's migration from being a company focused on hardware to a software and services company is a necessary change.

Now that Calix has laid out a sound platform for software transformation, the onus is on the company to educate its customers on how they can apply software-based elements like AXOS into their last-mile networks.

Focusing on software and services is not just relegated to Calix alone. Cisco, for one, has embarked on a similar path. The routing giant has consistently said that it has been transforming itself into a software and services company.

However, Cisco’s transition has not been without pain. It has prompted the vendor to conduct multiple layoffs while purchasing other software-centric companies like Viptela for SD-WAN to fill out its portfolio.

Regardless of the approaches vendors take to software, Calix’s movement is not only about being able to survive, but being part of its service providers' team to rapidly scale and differentiate. In order to maintain a relevant state in the last mile network Calix has had to rethink how its delivers products to customers via a more agile software construct.—Sean | @FierceTelecom