Canalys Channels Forum: A new ‘virtual’ reality?

A sales rep of a major internet service provider picks up the phone and connects with the CEO of a hot new startup.

A sales rep of a major internet service provider picks up the phone and connects with the CEO of a hot new startup.

The rep is tasked to get the company’s internet up and running, but he’s hundreds of miles away.

After some back-and-forth with the CEO, he determines the startup needs more than basic internet for its 100 employees – it also needs cloud-based unified communications, payroll and inventory management, and guaranteed quality video streaming.

The sales rep takes out his tablet, pokes at a few buttons and delivers a quote to the CEO. Liking what he sees, the CEO gives the sales rep the order.

“So, I guess we’ll be good to go in about three months?” asks the CEO.

“Nope,” the salesman said, “everything’s actually up and running right now.”

Such can be the future of the service provider business: custom services programmed on-demand with mouse rolls, not truck rolls.

For years, providers have been spending billions beefing up their physical network infrastructure to support, for instance, the increased bandwidth demand for over-the-top (OTT) content from the likes of Netflix, Facebook and Amazon.

The providers are making the investment, but the vast majority of the revenue is going to the OTT companies.

However, network agility does not meet business agility. With today’s pace of business, it’s simply impractical to wait sixty days for a particular service to come online. Something has to change.

Service providers can no longer keep designing networks the same way they have for the past two decades and expect to be around for another two. And when OTT players are eating your lunch, it’s time for service providers to think differently about their business models in order to stay viable.

Enter the new era of virtualisation…

Infrastructure can be flexibly deployed when and where needed and then elastically scaled out, up, or down upon demand.

Rather than spending time testing and qualifying new equipment and training on multiple appliances and operating systems, virtualisation enables service providers to seamlessly and affordably roll out new, revenue-generating services such as virtual security, multicast video or managed cloud services – in minutes, not months.

With Juniper Networks’ announcement that it is virtualising its no.1 selling MX router platform, service providers can now introduce virtualisation into their network at their own pace and without expensive qualification-testing, operations integration and training on new equipment.

“Some of the challenges facing providers of network services today are that resource and capacity planning is static, installation intervals are months vs. days or hours, and the network is not flexible enough to rapidly deploy new services to respond to ever changing market demands,” says Nav Chander, research manager, IDC’s Worldwide Telecom division.

“Service providers that deploy programmable platforms that leverage network virtualisation for scale, automation and faster service creation will have more flexibility to enter new markets, increase customer satisfaction and profitability."

Additionally, no two customers are alike in their connectivity needs so routine maintenance or service deployments can often mean network downtime for every customer running off a service provider’s hardware.

Service providers can now simply spin a vMX up on an x86 server and carry out the service upgrade there. Just because one customer wants video-service enhancement, for instance, doesn’t mean everyone else has to wait for it to be done.

Let’s take for example a regional service provider that wants to stretch connectivity into a local strip mall. Normally, with just physical routing, that would take weeks, expensive new hardware and extra manpower. With a vMX, setting up shop is as simple as flipping on a light switch.

The service provider network is now no longer a “field of dreams,” so to speak, where “if you build it they will come.” Sorry, Kevin Costner. Providers won’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on extra capacity and wait (read: hope) for the customers to show up.

With a vMX, a carrier can start small and react more quickly to increased demand. What does low initial cost and fast deployment time mean? The ability to succeed quickly or fail fast. More experimenting. Less uncertainty. If demand doesn’t increase, investments can be repurposed for other uses.

Another scenario: a service provider just won a project to provide Internet and services to a huge, national company. The provider can already reach 75 percent of the enterprise’s facilities with its current network infrastructure, but there’s a nagging extra bit remaining.

In the old model, they would have to buy a whole new router, set up new facilities to cover that extra quarter and over-provision assuming the service was successful. With a vMX, the provider can leverage the cloud model and push “go” to scale out to cover everything its customer needs.

The vMX can also work in tandem with physical MX routers. Every one of Juniper’s service provider customer markets are different, where some situations call for physical routing, for others virtual makes more sense.

Since all of Juniper’s routing platforms run on Junos OS with a common function and feature set, carriers already using the MX platform won’t have any trouble integrating a vMX into their lineup.

Now service providers have the maximum flexibility to use the right tool for the right project. No more having to use a hammer to try to turn a screw.

It’s through innovation like this that Juniper is ushering in the next generation of service provider networks, capable of responding to end-user demand in a mere fraction of the time and operational cost it previously took.

Virtualisation is the key to service providers transforming both their business and the networks on which they run.

And as a bonus, the vMX can fit on a thumb drive.

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