On yesterday's conference call, tw telecom's CEO Larissa Herda announced an ambitious new network platform that they will be putting together this year. Going by the moniker 'Constellation', the new platform aims to give enterprises the same sort of flexibility and speed they can get from cloud computing for their network pipes.
That means point-and-click, instantaneous bandwidth on a pay as you go basis to whatever data centers house the applications on the other end. That would certainly be a far cry from today's circuit by circuit provisioning process that is still the rule in the telecom world. She didn't use the SDN acronym explicitly, but the underlying concepts of software defined networking are clearly what the company has in mind:
Our vision for our constellation platform includes increasing the velocity of how customers buy our dedicated network services driven by the ability to more quickly access and consume network and IT services. To achieve that increased philosophy requires changing enterprise's traditional network constraints for security, flexibility, choice, speed, and ease of use. We believe that automation and rapid connectivity are the future versus the circuit-by-circuit dedicated connectivity of the past as enterprises need to shop, buy, consume, and manage services differently as well as interact with their network providers in a new way.
If there's any network operator in the US that is ready to take this plunge right now, it's tw telecom. They don't have anything to integrate, they've got 18,000 on-net buildings to work with, and their network and business model are tightly focused on the enterprise and tend not to be weighed down with much legacy baggage. On the other hand, they're going to have to scale it from the start.
The whole network automation thing is certainly coming, but there are a lot of questions still outstanding before we know how it's really going to work out. Obviously you can't sell stuff instantaneously unless the equipment is already in place to handle the full range of likely needs. How much overprovisioning does it take to make this work, and how do you price it pay-as-you-go to justify that? There has to be some sort of tradeoff between price and flexibility here for both service provider and enterprise buyer. And then there's the question of just how flexible enterprises ought to try to be in running their networks, touching the configuration too often can be a bad thing.
Lots of challenges ahead in this sort of automation, I look forward to seeing how tw telecom handles them.
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