After more than 13 years of selling Ethernet equipment to telcos, Overture Networks is diving into software, getting ready to sell orchestration and a controller for the metro network.
Yes, all networking vendors are becoming software-heavy in the face of software-defined networking (SDN). Some are even selling software that doesn’t have to be used with their own hardware, as Cyan is doing with its Blue Planet software.
Overture executives say they didn’t do this to follow SDN hype; it was more about facing reality. Service providers started demanding standards-based programming interfaces for their networks, and it became clear that the carrier central office would have to start behaving more like a cloud-hosting data center. So, Overture decided last year that its specialty in Carrier Ethernet equipment was going to need a stronger software element.
“What I told folks was that it was not about SDN, and it was not about NFV. The problem we were trying to solve was how to take cost out of, and put speed into, service creation, activation, and assurance,” says Mike Aquino, who joined Overture as CEO in late 2013 from Ciena and has shepherded the company’s new direction.
“SDN, to me, is really around multivendor box management — which is really important. We chose to focus on something which was more around multivendor service management.”
It’s alien turf for Overture, Aquino admits — but it might be part of a trend. Companies that identified themselves with Carrier Ethernet — that is, adhering to the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) definitions that adapt Ethernet for the service-provider environment — could start redefining themselves in shades of software. Overture competitor Telco Systems did just that, declaring earlier in March that it’s now an SDN and NFV company.
Orchestrating With Ensemble
Overture’s new software scheme, the Ensemble Open Services Architecture (OSA), was announced a year ago and is now starting to emerge. An orchestration piece became available Dec. 31 and was contributed to the CloudNFV effort. A network controller is due to be announced in April.
The first productions shipments of the software — both standalone and bundled with Overture’s hardware — should start before the end of June, Aquino says. He adds that Ensemble has gotten into about “half a dozen real projects,” meaning projects that are beyond the hand-waving, proof-of-concept stage.
Ensemble’s orchestrator can sit on top of a cloud controller and a physical-network controller, so it can dictate commands that straddle the virtual and physical networks. Details about the controller haven’t come out yet.
Despite the hipness of software, Overture isn’t abandoning its hardware business. But Aquino says it’s also true that Overture’s newest line of Ethernet gear, the 6500 series, wouldn’t be getting carrier attention without the Ensemble roadmap supporting it.
“One thing about this customer base — they never move as fast as you’d like,” Aquino says of the service providers. “But I’d rather be in those conversations — which we weren’t in 14 or 16 months ago.”
Neither is Overture aspiring to take over orchestration for the entire network. Its management ecosystem will be contained to the metro edge network, the market Overture knows best.
Of course, large vendors (we’ll use Cisco or VMware as hypotheticals) will probably try to absorb the metro network as part of a service-provider SDN strategy. Overture’s hope is to stand out by preaching openness — which everybody does, but an open and modular structure would give Ensemble a way to piggy-back onto a larger SDN architecture through APIs, Aquino says. Part of the pitch there would be that Carrier Ethernet customers could keep a specialist’s hand in the metro network.
(Photo: Mark Durrett, Overture’s VP of marketing, and CEO Mike Aquino bask in the glow of Overture’s LED screen at Comptel Plus, Las Vegas.)