NEW ORLEANS — When it came to drawing up its virtualization playbook a few years back, Charter decided to drill down on a few key areas.
During a sponsored Q&A at SCTE-ISBE Cable-Tec Expo in New Orleans, Satya Parimi, group vice president, enterprise data at Spectrum Enterprise, described his company's approach to virtualization.
"Our key priority has been initially about what new services can be launched using virtualization and how can we enhance the client experience for the services we already to offer?"he said. "So as it stands today, our strategy at a very high level is primarily around making sure we have the right infrastructure in place and the right capabilities in place to virtualize a number of these services.
"So, there's a lot of conversation going on about what part of the network infrastructure gets virtualized, what services get virtualized, how much of it will run on the prem, how much at the edge, how much in the core? Our strategy has been primarily to focus on the infrastructure itself and over time, as things evolve, we'll pick out where various services and network functions run. But, in the initial launch a lot of our virtualization has been on the edge compute platform."
The edge compute platform is IP and software-defined networking-based, and includes the company's "points of deployment" over its last mile assets. Parimi said the edge was a great place for cable providers to take advantage of their scale and proximity to the end user to deliver services.
Within that framework, Spectrum Enterprise decided to look at what services it could offer through virtualization, which includes new services such as SD-WAN and improved legacy services. In order to accomplish those tasks, Charter/Spectrum needed to virtualize its core network and have a plan in place for virtualization on premises as its first step.
The second key area is "processes and people," according to Parimi. In the past, service providers were focused on what part of the network to virtualize, but that's only part of the equation going forward.
"Everybody's in different stages of virtualization," he said. "But, to get to scale, it's really important from a systems process and people perspective to have a —call it a culture of, or the capability for virtualization—because things are different in a virtual world. So, the systems you have today don't really scale. How do you do virtual inventory versus physical inventory for example? Service assurance is very different in a virtualized world. So, I think the investment in the right systems and the upgrade changed a lot of the processes.
"And, the other tough part has been people. It's really hard to get people who understand virtualization."
The third leg of the virtualization stool is having a plan in place for all of the data that's generated in a virtualized world. Finding ways to manage that data leads to a better service.
In March, Spectrum Enterprise started offering its managed SD-WAN service by using its SDN/NFV and edge compute platform. Unlike traditional cable services that are limited to a cable provider's footprint, Spectrum is offering SD-WAN nationally. Spectrum is also offering security products on the same platform.
At Expo, Parimi said Spectrum was looking at virtualizing session border controllers (SBCs), network interface devices (NIDs), and virtual router functionality. Charter/Spectrum is also looking at cutting-edge software around how to gather or use all the data from various software running on it virtualization platform to deliver better services with service assurance.
"So, there's a whole range of things going on," Parimi said. "The key is the virtualization of services and capabilities. We are looking to run it at the edge, but at the same time trying to do the work so that we can build it once, and then you could potentially run it at the prem as well, or even through the core. So, it's a whole range of different network functions that we would virtualize with the capability to, hopefully, down the road, be able drag and drop and run virtual functions at the core."
While Spectrum Enterprise has SD-WAN, security and other planned virtualized services at the edge, it's also looking at how it can use virtualization for its core services.
"I wouldn't call them legacy services, but they're core services that we offer today," he said. "I think that's the beauty with virtualization is, it's not just about new services, which of course we want because they drive a lot of revenue, but it also can have a really big impact from a better customer experience for existing products and also cost management.
"So the virtualization is not to get more bandwidth or reduce the cost per bit. It's primarily about what new services can you deliver, or how can you enhance the service you have so that you can differentiate, so that you can take market share, for example."
Parimi said that while virtualization adds capabilities, it also introduces complexities. It's also complicated by the hybrid nature of today's networks, but the worlds of virtual and physical will have to exist for sometime going forward.
"I think from a service assurance perspective, a lot of service providers in that world right now, are trying to figure out, 'How do we get this to scale, and how do we coexist in both a physical and a virtual world?'" he said. "Virtualizing your infrastructure just makes sense from a flexibility, cost, and long-time viability perspective. We're trying to see what incremental value we can provide to the customer and see an incremental lift in revenue in return. And, that's the part that we're still trying to figure out.
"So, there's always the clients asking, 'So, my contract's up. Why do I have to pay what I paid two years ago?' So, what we're trying to figure out, and that's the part that I think nobody has a handle on, is whether virtualization creates value either in terms of cost reduction, flexibility, or enabling services that were not possible before. The key becomes, how do you productize it in ways that the customers see value and they want to pay for it? And, I think that is something that's not going on a smooth linear curve."