Telia Carrier makes its move into automation and SDN

Mattias Fridström says Telia Carrier is enabling more automation and SDN as it connects with cloud operators and enters the enterprise arena. (Telia Carrier)

International fiber backbone provider Telia Carrier marked its 25th birthday last month by trialing software-defined networking (SDN).

Called TeliaSonera International Carrier until two years ago, Telia Carrier got it starts after having seen how four Investors invested in a trans-Atlantic cable called Atlantic Crossing about 20 years ago.

While that niche has served Telia Carrier well, it has branched out beyond connectivity to work with cloud providers—including Microsoft, Amazon, Google and IBM—as well as enterprise customers. In order to meet those evolving needs, Telia Carrier started automating some of its network processes while also embracing SDN.

"I would say we really jumped on the automation wagon a year ago," said Mattias Fridström, chief evangelist for Telia Carrier. "We have automated a few things, but we still have quite a lot of things that are being automated. We do manual billing, for instance. We have a bunch of people sitting and doing manual billing of our customers. Some pieces of what we do are quite complicated, so we need to calculate how much customers should pay based on how much traffic they're using. But, over time, we need to automate a lot of things like that."

Telia Carrier has worked with Coriant, which was acquired by Infinera, on removing the manual performance assessments of optical wavelengths. Fridström said Telia Carrier previously didn't view automation as a top priority, but that has changed as its customer base has branched out.

"We're right in the middle of going all the way into automation in terms of services and everything we do," he said. "We came from a world where we thought automation was much more everyone else. Yes, we need to do it, but there was really no hurry.

"Now, we see the need to hurry. If enterprise customers come and say, 'We want to buy enormous amounts of cloud connect services to various clouds around the world, and we want to do it really fast,' then we need to automate now."

In order to speed up its automation efforts, Telia Carrier poached employees from some of its fiercest competitors.

"We've hired the best guys they had, and they are now doing the automation for us," Fridström said. "We have already launched a few things and we have a few more to launch over the coming weeks."

Also over the coming weeks, Telia Carrier will launch automated configuration services to replace manual processes using technology that is purchased from Cisco

"We're getting there," Fridström said. "We started late. The good thing is, when you start late you can always select the best, and that's maybe to our advantage now."

Fridström said Telia Carrier had to deal with the cultural transformation that needed to take place in order to implement automation and SDN.

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"I think at the beginning we believed we would turn everyone into an IP engineer and that we could all be happy, but we realized that's not going to happen," he said. "We can't turn people around, but what we could do is bring in a lot of skilled IT people into our IT department. I think those people came in and they showed what we can do. The people that have been here for 15 years they start to realize, "Wow. There's something in here for me, as well." So I think the whole company culture is turning towards automation.

"I think most of our people are feeling pretty good about automation now. They realize that with automation, we're going to grow the company and that they will have other jobs to do."

Telia Carrier steps into SDN

Telia Carrier recently took part in a multivendor SDN field trial that was designed to reduce provisioning times in multi-domain, disaggregated optical networks. The trial was conducted last month at Telia Company's R&D lab with connectivity to production network fiber networks. Vendors that took part included Adva, Coriant, VPIphotonics and Rise Research Institutes of Sweden.

Working with another company, Fridström said Telia Carrier developed its own SDN orchestration that sits on top of orchestrators from Adva and Coriant.

"It was more of a research project," he said. "We wanted to see if we could start a service with one vendor and terminate into the other vendor's network, which we found out we can do. We weren't doing anything in their (vendors') systems. We were configuring everything in our system, which was kind of a first in the world where someone has done that. So this really was our first big step into SDN."

Fridström said that since Telia Carriers services operated across hardware, network functions virtualization wasn't much of a priority in the past, but now his company is starting to scratch the NFV surface as it enters the enterprise arena. 

Telia Carrier closes in on machine learning tool

Telia Carrier, which Fridström said has about 490 employees, is also dipping its toes into the machine learning waters. Telia Carrier provisions Facebook's European network and Fridström said his company has had some machine learning talks with Facebook.

"I don't think we are that far away launching our own machine learning tool ," he said. "I think we have so much information coming out of the network right now that we can start to use that information for machine learning. We spent a lot of time with Facebook and we learned a lot from them.  

"Now we have the skilled people in place. We're actually starting to do some really interesting stuff. We have so much information from the network today compared to a year ago, but we just need to start to doing more things with it."