How One Service Provider Developed On Demand Network Services with SDN and NFV


IT virtualization has radically changed the face of compute, storage, and network services in data centers and beyond. In response, Colt — a network and communications service provider — back in 2015 began developing a program that has transformed the way the company offers network services to customers, says Javier Benitez, Senior Network Architect, Colt Technology Services, who will be speaking at Open Networking Summit.

According to Benitez, the aim was to move away from a traditional consumption model to one where network services are consumed through an on-demand model based on software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) technologies. Here, Benitez explains more about Colt’s SDN and NFV solutions, focusing on current development efforts and future plans. What prompted Colt’s adoption of NFV and SDN?

Javier Benitez: Our transformation toward network virtualization started long ago, in 2010, when we defined Colt’s Ethernet and IP integration strategy which included the virtualization of the L3 CPE router used to deliver managed Internet access and IPVPN services. This virtualization was launched in production early 2012 and pre-dated the ETSI NFV group. The same year Colt joined the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) with special interest in the potential use of OpenFlow in the data center (DC) as well as in the transport network.

Javier Benitez, Senior Network Architect, Colt Technology Services

In a very organic way, we began to evaluate these new technologies whenever an area of the network needed to be replaced or evolved. This was the case with Colt data centers when in 2012 we evaluated a new architecture for the next generation switching infrastructure.  OpenFlow technology and SDN overlay approaches were considered and, following a trial in one of our DCs in Paris, we deployed a Nicira SDN overlay solution in 2014.  Around the same time, we also launched an RFI to evaluate NFV vendors capable of delivering virtual CPE solutions, and selected Versa Networks.

From 2014/2015, we started to observe a real interest and demand from customers, first to understand what the new technology was capable of, and second to request new services to be developed that would make use of SDN and NFV to solve some of their business requirements. Following several focused workshops with key Colt customers, we identified that their top priority was for a new on-demand consumption model, initially for basic Ethernet connectivity with the view to extend to other technology domains (e.g., IPVPN, Internet access, optical) in the future and up the stack to deliver added value services (e.g., virtualized firewall, DPI, application optimization, etc.) on demand on top of basic connectivity. This led to the creation of Colt’s Novitas program. What is Novitas, and what role does it play within Colt?

Benitez: Novitas, branded Colt On Demand, is a company transformation programme created in 2015 with strong support from Colt’s executive team to completely change the way network services are offered and consumed by our customers. The vision is to move away from a traditional, slow, manual and paper-work based consumption model to one aligned with  the IT/Cloud world where network services are consumed through an on-demand model, in real time, either through a web portal or API and based on the use of SDN and NFV technologies.

Novitas is having a profound impact internally, as it is transforming the entire organization. One of the most significant changes has been the need to adapt an agile development process as opposed to the traditional waterfall approach. The development framework is based on rapid development cycles, with a dynamic roadmap that is frequently updated based on both internal and customer feedback. At the same time, new product development processes, new operating models and new commercial models have been defined as new services and products are targeted by the On Demand roadmap. Can you give us some examples of Colt’s development efforts? What issues are you currently focusing on?

Benitez: Based on the feedback received from our customers, our initial focus was delivering Ethernet On Demand. The value proposition gives customers a portal and/or an API so that they can reserve ports, create point to point Ethernet services, change the bandwidth of an existing service, and finally cease a service, all in real-time. And, all of that can happen across Colt’s Ethernet network deployed across more than 40 metro networks in Europe, to be expanded worldwide (US and Asia) in subsequent phases. The technical solution is based on Cyan (today Ciena) BluePlanet SDN controller controlling Colt’s Modular MSP, an integrated IP/Ethernet, multi-vendor packet network. We initially focused on a service proposition known as DCNet delivering the capability between key data centers in Europe, but it has now been extended and launched to cover any business on-net site, as well as Direct Cloud Access On Demand to Microsoft Azure as well as Amazon AWS.

The second development, also based on customers’ priorities, is the introduction of SD WAN as an evolution to the traditional MPLS IPVPN technology. Customers are interested in a new IPVPN proposition that would allow seamless support of multiple access technologies (MPLS, Internet), dynamic patch selection based on customer on demand configuration and value-added services activation. Another key development is Colt’s SD WAN proposition, based on Versa Networks and an initial NFV platform to virtualize some of the components (e.g., SD VPN-MPLS Gateway, SDN Controller).

At the moment, the Novitas Programme continues with both the Ethernet On Demand development as well as SD WAN, delivering features in a phased approach. At the same time, new products are being added into the roadmap, such as Internet Access On Demand. What are some challenges you’ve encountered in deploying SDN & NFV solutions and how have you handled them?

Benitez: Probably the biggest challenge initially when trying to bring SDN/NFV services in production has been dealing with the integration to existing OSS and BSS systems. Those systems will obviously evolve and potentially be replaced as we progress the development, but in the initial phases we have to use the systems already in place, and that integration task has been quite important.

Another industry wide challenge is the lack of standards, or maybe even better these days, de facto standards of reference implementations. Some of the areas are quite new and there is still a lot of work and industry convergence that needs to happen. A clear example is NFV orchestration, where a number of open source initiatives as well as commercial solutions are trying to lead the way following the directions given by the ETSI NFV ISG. Standards are also missing when we try to interoperate SDN commercial vendors, as we initially see vendor-proprietary implementations, as well when it comes to interconnecting service providers to extend SDN/NFV services beyond a single operator’s domain. Colt is trying to address this last challenge by actively collaborating in industry forums and engaging with other operators.

Another challenge is product maturity and performance. Unfortunately, here there is no other  alternative than testing, testing, and feeding back to vendors to work together in improving the initial products. What development areas would you like to address in the future?

Benitez: There are three research areas that we are working on at the moment in the context of the Novitas program:

1.    Target NFV Platform: Further to the initial deployment of an NFV platform to support the SD WAN development, plus other individual network virtualization needs, we are now evaluating a  complete, unified, and distributed NFV platform across Colt including NFV Infrastructure and MANO.

2.    Standard SDN/NFV API: Colt is fully committed to help the industry agree on standard APIs that can be used to extend SDN and NFV services across different service providers. We are currently engaged in a collaboration with MEF, TM Forum, and other service providers like AT&T and Orange to deliver an initial set of standard APIS for Ethernet On Demand. This initiative uses MEF’s LSO (Lifecycle Service Orchestration) framework and TM Forum’s Open API framework

3.    Optical SDN: We have started to research Optical SDN technologies that could extend Colt’s on demand offering to our optical portfolio. The main objective here is to explore SDN for the Optical layer to enable a fully disaggregated, software-controllable optical transport network, both at the Photonic/WDM layer as well as OTN.

Open Networking Summit April 3-6 in Santa Clara, CA features over 75 sessions, workshops, and free training! Get in-depth training on up-and-coming technologies including AR/VR/IoT, orchestration, containers, and more. readers can register now with code LINUXRD5 for 5% off the attendee registration. Register now!