At a cable event in Denver this week, it looked like cable operators might finally reveal what they’re doing in their networks in terms of virtualization, but alas, that was not to be.
Jeff Finkelstein, executive director of advanced access architectures with Cox Communications, could have talked about the company’s virtualization work in his keynote to the audience of cable operators and vendors at Light Readings’ Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies event. But instead, he re-hashed Cox’s technology history.
“You can never have too much fiber,” said Finkelstein. “You never regret having fiber.”
This left the audience wondering what Cox did regret and how it might be trying to avoid regrettable choices now. But he didn’t elaborate on that.
Later, there was a panel entitled “Virtualizing the Cable Architecture,” which sounded promising in terms of learning what cable operators are doing with software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV).
At that session, John Chapman, CTO of cable access and a fellow at Cisco, said, “We built this CMTS [cable modem termination system], and we’re going to try and virtualize it.”
We already know that Comcast is working on virtualizing the CMTS because Timon Sloane, who is the vice president of standards and membership with the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), told SDxCentral about that in February. Sloane said a number of use cases have been developed in the Residential-CORD (R-CORD) project. And one of those use cases is a virtual CMTS, which is being worked on by Comcast.
The top CMTS vendors are Arris, Cisco, and Casa Systems. Donna Childress, senior director of marketing at Casa Systems, whom SDxCentral spoke to at the recent Mobile World Congress, said virtualizing the CMTS was a hot topic among cable operators at the CableLabs Winter Conference held in February.
Unfortunately, that event is for members only. So while the topic may be hot, only the privileged few top cable executives are included in the conversations.
Virtualization in General
The panel discussion at the Light Reading event was focused on virtualization in general.
Nagesh Nandiraju, director of network architecture at Comcast, was careful not to be specific about the service providers’ network. He said, “You need to have decoupling of your software that’s driving devices. That’s where NFV comes into the picture, where you pull up that software and abstract it from the hardware.”
When you talk about running the software, you can run in virtual machines [VMs] or containers,” he added. “These are different tool sets. In general we’re leaning more toward container-based for edge or access. We do have VMs in our cloud; started with OpenStack.”
At that point, the expressions on the audiences’ faces must have looked blank, because Cisco’s Chapman felt compelled to explain the difference between VMs, containers, and serverless functions.
Meanwhile, competitors such as AT&T and Verizon are playing in the big leagues of virtualization. They’re transforming their networks and tapping into the talents of open source groups to innovate the code. And they’re also openly transforming their employee cultures. They’ve both created in-house training curriculums to educate their workforces on SDN.
Sachin Vasudeva, senior director of product line leadership at Calix, said at the Denver event this week, some customers “are on the sidelines waiting for the likes of AT&T redefining CORD. There are the early adopters trying to transform the network. CORD is forcing a certain thought process to occur. The skill set changes significantly.”