Verizon has been touting its Virtual Network Services (VNS) as a platform that allows functions that previously were performed on purposeful hardware to now be performed in software. And as the service provider gets more involved with virtualization it could potentially become a software vendor itself.
In terms of VNS, Vickie Lonker, executive director at Verizon, said, “We provide not just the software, but the framework to manage and support that software giving customers visibility and control that they didn’t have before and in a way that they can consume through a portal that is very agile and dynamic. You can spin up software a lot quicker than a rack-and-stack and install hardware.”
Support for VNS began two years ago with the carrier’s launch of software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) services. That was followed by the launch of virtual network services last year, using what Lonker termed “gray boxes that were on the customer premise.”
Verizon earlier this year moved to a white box universal customers premises equipment (uCPE) solution. The product was launched using ADVA’s Ensemble Connector as its network functions virtualization infrastructure (NFVI).
More recently, Verizon launched its Hosted Network Services (HNS) platform, which Lonker said was an “evolution” of its journey. HNS includes services hosted by Verizon’s globally distributed compute platform.
“I like to act like we are revolutionary, but we have seen how this is evolving in the cloud space,” said Shawn Hakl, VP of new products and innovation at Verizon, of the carrier’s VNS evolution. “We can look and take lessons on how services evolved in the cloud space. Our customers have expressed how they want to take these services and want a business outcome, not a deployment challenge.”
Verizon as a Software Vendor?
Hakl said Verizon’s initial move with the gray box was met with mixed reception as it served as neither a router nor a server.
“The gray box sort of fell in between what customers were looking for in terms of the programmable hardware they wanted to purchase,” Hakl said. “We learned a valuable lesson that people were not willing to take a bet on that.”
However, despite initial trepidation, the move to white boxes has been met with much broader acceptance.
“I was bullish on white boxes, but didn’t think the technology was there yet,” Hakl said of Verizon’s approach. “I can tell you that we have done a lot of work and with our friends at ADVA, and white boxes have taken off. … Customers have been willing to take a bet on white boxes. They see the risk as very low and we are seeing a lot of uptake.”
Hakl said the company is also “very much in favor of open software,” but that he didn’t know how deep Verizon would venture in terms of developing its own.
“I don’t know if we are going to get into the software business and write our own to go and compete head on with Cisco and our friends at Juniper, or whether we are going to continue to partner with them as we have successfully in bringing that intellectual property to market,” Hakl said. “What I do believe is there’s a lot of room so we want to create a lot of software choices for people. Innovation will come from a lot of the traditional partners that have stepped up and there are a lot of disruptive partners out there. The trick there is to make it easy for customers to consume … essentially let the best software out there win.”
Verizon rival AT&T has taken a different route in terms of software development, highlighted by its work behind the ECOMP management and orchestration framework. AT&T recently merged ECOMP into the Linux Foundation, which in turn merged ECOMP with its Open-O project into the current ONAP.
Hakl indicated that at the end of the day all that matters is whether a particular service being offered is beneficial to the end user.
“We just need to look at customer use cases,” Hakl said. “Customers want to integrate whatever works for them. No carrier has all the capabilities in terms of software, hardware, or connectivity for everything an enterprise needs. But, those requirements are out there and we need to do the best job we can in meeting those requirements. Otherwise you are cutting off meeting what your customer really needs and will pay for.”