Why SDN Makes Sense

Stop managing your network one box at a time and one command at a time.  Current network routers and switches perform their functions in very discrete silos.  Basically listening for information from one of its connected neighbors or inspecting packets of information traversing through the silicon and then reacting in a pre-defined way.

Software defined networks (SDN) create a level of abstraction that provides bigger picture thinking around the network.  Instead of operating in silos the network devices become one holistic pool of resources.  The network becomes the base layer of an application stack, called the data plane or infrastructure layer. The next layer, which the SDN controller provides, is the abstraction layer or control layer. Which uses a technology like OpenFlow to communicate with the infrastructure layer.  On top of that are the applications that each of us can create.  Applications based on business outcomes that provide measurable value to customers.
 

Figure 1. SDN Layers (from SDxCentral Website)

The conversation around networks becomes about these applications and not necessarily about the plumbing.  Imagine a web portal that your customers can access to provision their own data circuit and virtualized network resource (NFV).  Or dynamically routing traffic based on weather patterns to proactively avoid potential infrastructure issues. The possibilities are truly endless and becoming a reality.

Cisco has evolved the SDN concept into their Application Centric Infrastructure or ACI.  Although only really focused on the Nexus 9000 series switches it is inspiring many Python developers to create unique and outcome focused applications and will launch on future platforms. 

"Cisco ACI is a comprehensive SDN architecture. This policy-based automation solution supports a business-relevant application policy language, greater scalability through a distributed enforcement system, and greater network visibility. These benefits are achieved through the integration of physical and virtual environments under one policy model for networks, servers, storage, services, and security."

As vendors and standards groups evolve these technologies, it is clear that we are entering an application centric world.  Our networks will be built with the agility and capabilities to allow custom business applications to be written to interact with the network and launch us into a much more colorful world of developing solutions. Crack open your Python book and get involved in the community.

How to Build a Strong Service Provider Business

Originally posted on the Cisco Blog.

The world of the service provider, specifically for cable and telco providers, is becoming an ever-changing environment. Previous funding models, like USF and ConnectAmerica, are in flux. Customer demands are shifting from lower bandwidth consuming web browsing to immersive video, cloud services, the Internet of Things, and other bandwidth intensive applications. These changes, if not planned for and adapted to, can weaken service provider operations and customer satisfaction.

Developing a strong service provider business that can pace itself with these changes and stay profitable along the way requires focus in four primary areas:

1.     Customers

2.     Service Offerings

3.     Talent

4.     Network

Customers

It is essential that each provider understand their customer’s motivators and incentives for adopting certain technology and use patterns. Cisco VNI forecasts 132 Exabytes per month of IP traffic by 2018—over 2X more than 2013 traffic (figure 1). Embrace this growth rather than fight the adoption of new technologies like peer-to-peer, video streaming, and cloud applications by creating services with marketing programs that embrace and celebrate the growth of broadband. Be the customer advocate—make your customers fall in love with your services.

Make sure to keep current and understand consumer technology and the implications it will have on your business. If unable to attend the CES, follow it in social media or through other sources. Understand where consumer technology is evolving to and adapt the business strategy for customer adoption of these trends.

Keep your customers, their feedback and behavior at the center of your service strategy.

 

Figure 1. Cisco VNI Forecasts 132 Exabytes per Month of IP Traffic by 2018

 

Service Offerings

It is hard to stay profitable by offering only broadband and make the network changes required to keep pace with data consumption patterns. Providers need to create business models that provide additional customer-focused services for residential, mobile and business customers. Use customer feedback and industry trends to create a unique, differentiated set of services that meet the potentially unique demands of each provider’s serving areas. These new services should become the most profitable. As the services become ubiquitous or expected, new services should be developed to keep customers engaged or sticky.

Some common services offered today include:

·       SP WiFi  - Cisco VNI forecasts substantial growth in WiFi by 2018 (figure 2). Capitalize on this growth and create new revenue opportunities by blanketing common areas, downtown corridors, venues and other high population areas with WiFi to provide cell offload, analytics, location services, hotspot access for customers, and pay for access. Also providing custom SSIDs, portals, and advertisements for businesses are a compelling value add.

Figure 2. Global Internet Traffic, Wired and Wireless

·       Managed IT - Businesses should be focused on what they are best at and options for outsourcing their IT needs to their local provider can be compelling.

·       Managed Security - Security for businesses and even residential users is a growing revenue source for providers. From managed firewall services to hosted malware protection— there are plenty of options to customize for different customer types.

·       Cloud + Circuit Bundles - Guarantee SLAs by building a private or hybrid data center. Providers can offer 1G or 10G pipes to their business customers in conjunction with DR storage or hosted applications.

Cisco Q2 FY’15 shows Data Center and Wireless as large growth areas (figure 3). This is in line with the above analysis of creating service-oriented businesses and networks.

 

Figure 3. Cisco Q2 FY’15 Revenue Highlights (from Cisco’s Investor Relations website).

·       Linear content + Video Anywhere - Create a uniquely branded solution by developing a ROKU-based solution that brings together linear or live content in conjunction with video anywhere options like HBO Go or the up and coming Disney and CBS.

·       Many other services are out there—for example, Hosted VoIP or Collaboration.

Talent

The saying goes, keep your employees happy and they will keep your customers happy. Every provider should have a strategy built around attracting, acquiring and retaining knowledgeable and talented employees. Happy and knowledgeable employees work more efficiently and are more likely to go above and beyond to solve customer problems and keep customer satisfaction high. This doesn’t mean you have to hire the most expensive employees—sometimes that’s just not in the cards. Develop strong training programs and development plans for as many employees as possible. Provide employees with a career progression and attainable goals to go after. Don’t only focus on technical skills but train soft skills, especially those that are related to customer and social interactions. By engaging and mentoring all employees you will bring out the best talent, and in some cases, talent you didn’t know you had.

Network

A provider builds the foundation for success by creating a customer centric strategy, researching and building a compelling service set, and training and hiring the best talent. The last piece of the puzzle is to create, manage, and maintain the infrastructure that delivers the service to the customer. Always plan ahead and have a running 3-5 year network and infrastructure plan. This plan should be built and modified based on customer feedback and trends as well as what service offerings will be relevant both short and long term. Tie your customer and service plans together with your network and infrastructure plan.

Build the infrastructure in as redundant of a way as you can afford. Reliability of delivery is one of the main customer satisfaction metrics. It only takes one outage to tarnish a reputation but takes a long time to get that brand value back. Don’t skimp here.

Create a modular and adaptable network. MPLS provides efficient ways to transport different types of traffic. By creating a base physical layer with a logical MPLS network on top, “virtual” architectures can be created using VPLS, AToM and L3VPNs. This combined with network function virtualization (NFV) can enable modification of services and delivery without rolling a truck to make the changes. The idea is to create the architecture and network in way that it can handle different types of services without making major changes to the network. It must be able to adapt.

Conclusion

A service provider can create a strong business by focusing on the four primary areas: Customers, Service Offerings, Talent, and Network. Customers will be satisfied, engaged and willing to work with the provider to evolve their experience. Each provider will see satisfaction increase when focus areas have strong strategies in place and are kept at the center of decision making. 

My Reading List

Reading is the key to knowledge I always say. The most educated and strategic professionals I know have a deep and meaningful love for reading. This love for reading is accompanied by a thirst for knowledge and an understanding of the world.

Here is my reading list for February, March, and April 2015 (2 books a month). I look forward to the challenge.

  • Cognitive Surplus
  • Crossing the Chasm
  • Zero to One
  • The Lean Startup
  • Creative Destruction
  • The Innovator's Dilemma

I have partially read a few of these but really want to immerse myself in these over the next few months.  I'll post small reviews of each of these as I finish them.  I'm going to start from the top and work my way down.  I'm going to be introducing these to my technical staff in charge of solution and product development.

Let me know your thoughts if you've read some of these.