Windstream's Blue Planet deployment revitalizes its enterprise, wholesale optical strategy

Sean Buckley, FierceTelecom

Windstream made its first SDN move earlier this month by implementing Ciena’s Blue Planet to automate how it delivers wavelength services across its multi-vendor optical network -- setting the stage for the provider to virtualize network functions to enhance service activation and delivery times.

Using a DevOps-style approach to implement automation in its network, Windstream collaborated with Ciena, Infinera and other optical vendors. This allowed the project to go from concept to production in less than three months.

Specifically, Windstream can leverage Blue Planet’s orchestration capabilities to utilize its optical network as a programmable resource and accelerate the delivery of managed 1 GbE, 10 GbE, and 100 GbE wavelength services to its wholesale, enterprise, media and web-scale customers.

It comes at a time when Windstream is looking to broaden the reach of the optical wavelength services it sells to other carriers, focusing on a different set of wholesale and enterprise customers. 

“The use case with Blue Planet is focused on the traditional wavelength services that for Windstream have been predominantly carrier focused and we are increasing our focus on enterprise customers,” said Art Nichols, VP of architecture and technology for Windstream, in an interview with FierceTelecom. “We see it providing benefits for both segments, but it’s really about tying together multi-vendor, multi-domain wavelength provisioning with a common network orchestration function and SDN techniques for data models and network abstraction to enable that.”

As part of this initiative, Windstream will deploy an Open Daylight (ODL) controller to manage one of the domains. In the near-term, implementing SDN-like elements onto these applications provides real benefits because it is a well-known part of their network.

While the initial target is to realign its wavelength provisioning processes, Nichols said Windstream is keen on being prepared to virtualize more of its network.

“Our mindset and approach here is to be pragmatic about the things we are solving, but building for the virtual future so we are able to leverage the same framework in Blue Planet and others to then layer in other traditional virtual network function (VNF) solutions like Ethernet and Layer 3 VPNs,” Nichols said. “As we shift into the virtual world, we think that’s important because it helps us to manage the transition and enable hybrid solutions and hybrid orchestration between underlay and overlay networks.”

Implementing SDN capabilities into its optical wavelength services domain makes sense for Windstream on various levels.

First, it gives the service provider a common provisioning engine across all of its optical platforms it uses from not only Ciena, but also Infinera and other optical platforms. This creates a common way to provision services across its multiple geographies, including its soon-to-be-built West Coast ultra long haul optical route, targeting major cities in Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico.

As the new West Coast route gets built, the common orchestration platform will likely enable Windstream to quickly respond to new wholesale and business customer demands as they arise in the key metros they plan to serve.

These enw SDN-based provisioning capabilities can also be leveraged in other existing fiber builds that Windstream is in the process of completing.

Windstream has announced various fiber builds targeting key metros including Minneapolis, Charlotte, Nashville, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

By building fiber into more markets, Windstream is growing its presence in 50-plus carrier neutral hotels, with plans to further expand throughout the rest of the year and into 2017.

As it looks to attract more customers for wavelength services, the more pragmatic outcome for Windstream is enhancing its revenue base. Like other traditional wireline providers, the telco faces the ongoing challenge of replacing legacy revenue TDM losses with next-gen IP services.  By diversifying the revenue opportunity for wavelength services, it can help ease the pain of legacy revenue declines.

Windstream won’t release its earnings until Nov. 7, but in the second quarter wholesale revenues were $160 million, down 7 percent year-over-year. Core carrier and wholesale revenues declined $1 million sequentially to $149 million. At the same time, enterprise service revenues were $491 million, up 3 percent year-over-year.

Ultimately, Windstream sees that it can use SDN-based technology to create on-demand services, similar to what AT&T has done with its Ethernet and security services on demand platforms.

Nichols could not offer a specific timeline, but indicated that Windstream also plans to introduce an on-demand Ethernet service.

“We have a long list of use cases and Carrier Ethernet is the next for us to be enabled both internal for management and provisioning, but also to expose to customers for bandwidth on demand type services,” Nichols said.

Windstream may be early on its SDN development cycle, but its work with Ciena Blue Planet shows that it wants to break free of the traditional silo approach telcos use to deliver services.--Sean