Back in March, CenturyLink adopted Cyan's BluePlanet platform and embarked on a rollout of SDN and NFV within its network. Soon thereafter, and probably not coincidentally, Ciena bought Cyan and merged it into its own virtualization efforts. CenturyLink today reiterated and expanded its network overhaul plans.
CenturyLink says it will have virtualized 40% of its global IP core network locations by the end of the year, with the rest expected to be there by 2018. They have NFV in 36 network and data center locations in 7 countries, with 44 planned by the end of the year. They now plan to start deploying virtualized MPLS routers as well as CPE, among other things, replacing hardware with software. They are working with Arista, Nuage, Red Hat, and Supermicro for various VNFs.
The plan is certainly ambitious, although I suspect the goal of 'full network virtualization' is a bit of a moving target. By the time we get to 2018, the words will already mean different things -- but that is the nature of the industry I guess. CenturyLink obviously isn't the only one travelling down this road, although they're doing it a bit more publicly than most. The fact that through the Savvis deal and various follow-on cloud tech acquisitions they have a big presence in the cloud on so many levels gives them a definite infrastructure boost in rolling things out.
It's important to realize that for all that SDN and NFV can do, what the end-user customer will see of it is just the tip of the iceberg. In the short and mid-term, the real effects, assuming the technologies mature as expected, will be in the way the underlying black boxes work. It's basically the final nail in the coffin of what we used to think of as a telco in the era of copper, in which decisions were made by physical devices designed just to make that specific kind of decision. Packet-based technologies started us down this path, and now the software is ready to finish the job.
As with the VoIP transition and shift into UC, we won't see what the really new possibilities with virtualization are for a while yet. The talk is about how revolutionary it all is, but first the elbow grease goes into making sure we can still do what we used to. An agile network is still a network. The real fruits of the virtualization revolution come after the migration is complete and the business models have adapted to the new configuration.