A Meeting of Minds
How Service Providers and Enterprise Customers Can Change and Evolve Together
Keeping pace with the services your customers and prospects want is a long, winding, and endless road. Here Moshe Shimon, ECI’s VP of Product Management looks at what providers of Business Services can do to change and evolve with their customers’ expectations. This is the second in a series of blogs about the metro network and how it’s changing in response to emerging market trends and technological innovation.
Love them or loathe them, the OTT players have shaken things up. Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform and Netflix (to name just three) have bypassed the traditional service and billing models, to bring us WaaS (Whatever-as-a-Service) with untold flexibility. The problem is that this approach is fast becoming the norm, and the least people expect.
Meanwhile, in the world of Business Services everything has carried on much the same as it always has. So while the rest of the world embraces a new way of using and paying for services, SPs are busy negotiating over what the network and capacity will look like and insisting customers then sign up to an old-school 12-month contract (on a good day). And heaven forbid if they want to change anything, as that’s another lengthy contract negotiation. How much longer can this go on?
Anything you can do, I can do better
Is it beyond the realms of possibility that one of these OTT giants, with its bottomless pockets, will decide it can do ‘Business Services connectivity’ better than the incumbents? Should that day come, things could get very messy very quickly for SPs that have fallen behind in the services they offer, and the way they deliver them.
So to survive and thrive, SPs need to get better at changing and evolving in line with their customers’ needs and expectations. In fact, this should be reason enough for SPs to upgrade their metro networks.
As discussed in my previous blog 'Stagnation or Salvation', businesses are going global, moving to the cloud, expecting high-quality access anywhere and anytime. Their own internal traffic no longer stays within the business, and jumps aboard the ‘metro express’ to connect external cloud-based services and different branch or office locations. All this extra traffic is putting more stress and strain on the network, which is another reason why SPs need to beef up the metro – so they can provide the connectivity services their customers need and expect.
Remember the (not so) good ol’ days?
Traditionally, SPs used the metro network either to build a user network or to put extensions on it for specific business services. So, for example, if you wanted an Ethernet Access Service, you'd build Ethernet access pipes onto the end of the metro. But who wants to have to provide a separate product platform for each service, when the technology’s there to have a common platform for all services? Especially given the fact that services are evolving much faster than they used to.
Therefore SPs need not only an agile platform that can offer multi-service capability relatively rapidly, but also the toolkit to react to changing customer demands. That requires multi-service flexibility to the Packet layer, and the ability to stitch together an optical, or a combined packet-optical, service. And to make that happen requires seamless IP and optical interworking in the network. Which is where a multi-service box comes in very handy – as long as it’s optimised for quality of service (QoS) and compares favourably on cost to a single network.
A dog’s breakfast
We can safely say the networking closet in most businesses looks like a dog’s breakfast. It’ll probably contain a bunch of communications appliances, plus other boxes for things like routing, cyber security and WAN optimisation. But, thanks to virtualisation, those hardware products can become software products, not only reducing the number of different boxes but, at the flick of a button, allowing the spinning up or down of different virtual functions. Hey presto! Instant flexibility. In most cases, all that’s required is a very small metro access box as part of the Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) or a dedicated box if more capacity is needed.
Things to think about
So with more access, more traffic and more pressure to optimise costs when they're providing services, SPs need to pay attention to a few key things:
- Cloudification of services – this is driving all sorts of changes. The need to go multi-service. The increase in capacity due to the growing use of video, even in business. The flexibility to migrate between one service and another. The ability to add new end-points or to modify an existing service, without having to go through lengthy contract negotiations.
- A changing business model – until fairly recently, connectivity has been built on a very static business model. What would serve enterprises better is a more dynamic and flexible model, and that’s what forward-thinking SPs are looking to offer. So any platform they deploy today has to provide the capability and flexibility their customers will need tomorrow.
- Network Function Virtualisation – lest we forget NFV. You can add a whole raft of capabilities such as extra firewalls, intrusion protection, and encryption services using NFV. While that may be less relevant at the moment for some, platforms need to be flexible enough to add these extra capabilities into the service definition, linking them together using service chaining.
- Security – beyond the firewalls and DPIs, also in terms of Layer 1 encryption, SPs need the flexibility to encrypt their services by service. So, for example, the SP can provide an encrypted service to Company A, but not to Company B. In short, SPs can change things on the fly on a ‘per service’ turn it on/off whenever you want basis.
A shameless plug...
One of the possible solutions to tackle some of these challenges is to utilize some of the newer, virtual solutions, like uCPE. In essence, a universal customer premise equipment (uCPE) solution such as our very own Mercury™ uCPE gives SPs a lot more flexibility. It provides services based on the customers’ needs. So they can add in a firewall if they want, and WAN optimisation, LAN monitoring, security, and other network functions – then use service chaining to link them all together.
Even better, when you need to upgrade or enhance the service, it’s done remotely via the central virtual network functions (VNF) manager, so there’s no need to connect to bespoke CPEs to upgrade software. Actually, Mercury uCPE makes upgrading and maintaining everything in the network a lot cleaner and simpler. And if you already have one of our Neptune boxes, you can simply plug in a Mercury NFV blade for even more functionality at a click of a button.
And the future?
Nobody knows for certain. I’m sure it won’t involve long-term contracts, but I do think it will involve more harnessing of the metro network’s ability to diversify your service portfolio, create new revenue streams, and offer an altogether more flexible approach to what you offer and how you charge.