Verizon's SDN strategy will migrate aging wireline platforms to software

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) is implementing software-defined networking throughout its networks to improve service timelines. For the company's wireline network, the initial focus will be on migrating legacy elements and functions onto software-based platforms.

To assist in its SDN network vision, the service provider has employed the help of five of its key vendor partners: Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Cisco, Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC), Juniper Networks and Nokia (NYSE:NOK).

Brian Higgins, Verizon's vice president of network planning, told FierceTelecom that from a wireline perspective, SDN will to be used to replace aging hardware-based network elements with software.

"What we are doing is taking a look at end-of-life platforms that are sitting out there," Higgins said. "If you think about the wireline side, we may have a number of platforms that are end of life and that's a great opportunity to go in, and instead of putting in a brand new piece of hardware, we're taking a hard look if we can migrate that over to software."

While Verizon does not have any specific wireline services it can immediately announce, it is working with its network partners to identify functions that can be moved into software-based architecture.

"We don't have any specific services around wireline that we're prepared to announce today, but what we are doing is going through network function by network function and stacking those up and working with the partners to figure out how to migrate it over into that software model and once that's done, we'll have service offerings that we can announce," Higgins said.

The effort to reduce costs in the wireline business comes at a time when the telco continues to focus more of its capital dollars on the wireless side of the business.

Verizon said it expects to spend between $17.5 billion and $18 billion on capex this year. Fran Shammo, Verizon's CFO, told investors during the UBS Annual Global Media and Communications Conference in December that Verizon's wireless capex will continue to trend up and that the carrier's wireline capex will continue to trend down.

During the first-quarter earnings call, Shammo said that in addition to migrating 47,000 customers off of copper, it plans to shut down 10 Central Offices (COs).

Higgins said that Verizon chose to partner with five of its long-term network vendor partners for its SDN migration, but added that it is working with more than 20 partners on SDN. Higgins said those other companies are "non-traditional" partners and will be announced at a later date.

"What we wanted to do is we felt it was important to get out there with some of the major providers first because they have been instrumental in what we have in the network today and we need to partner to make this transition over from hardware to software," Higgins said.

Verizon has been working with its five main network infrastructure partners for various months to deconstruct the hardware and software bundles it already has in place. Higgins said that while these bundles have been reliable, they are not dynamic.

"What we have been doing for a number of months now is working together in decomposing the hardware and software bundles we have in place today that work very well, but they are not as elastic as we need and they don't move as dynamically as we need within the market," he said.

In order to test out its SDN vision, Verizon has created live lab environments in San Jose, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; and Waltham, Mass.; and has commercial data center environments on both the East and West Coasts. Higgins said that Verizon is doing open-source SDN work and plans to make additional announcements about its OpenStack work soon.  

Verizon also has a centralized team that's driving the SDN migration across both its wireline and wireless networks. This team will handle not only carrying out the program, but also providing training to its existing network operations staff to prepare them to operate in the software-based environment.  

Interestingly, the vendors Verizon chose for its SDN initiative are also working with AT&T (NYSE: T) on its Domain 2.0 program, including Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson. AT&T has set a goal to virtualize and control more than 75 percent of its network using a software-driven architecture by the year 2020.

Already, AT&T is seeing the fruits of its SDN vision come alive in its Ethernet services network. Following an initial trial in Austin, Texas, AT&T announced earlier this month that its switched Ethernet service with its Network on Demand capability is now available in more than 100 U.S. cities.

Higgins said that while he acknowledges the work AT&T has done with its network vision, Verizon right now is in the process of developing its own internal goals around the SDN transition.

"I have seen John Donovan out at Mobile World Congress giving updates on what AT&T's goals are, but the expectation is that we will develop internal goals that we're going to work through as we go through all those network functions via an internal plan," Higgins said. "Once we have that internal plan validated within Verizon, we'll be in a position to go public with our aspirations to try to make this migration."

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