Virtualization has been good to Telia Carrier, even though the operator has yet to invest much in the technology itself.
The international B2B carrier is only now considering how to virtualize and integrate about 45 standalone proprietary systems, but other providers' virtualized infrastructures mean more business from operators that target enterprises, says Chief Technology Evangelist Mattias Fridström in an interview with the New IP Agency. As virtualization adoption grows, demand for bandwidth across Telia's pan-European and American backbone networks also grew, he says.
Automation Looms for More Processes, Procedures
"We have to think about how we can automate instead of think about how we can continue to do it manually," says Telia Carrier Chief Technology Evangelist Mattias Fridström.
is exploring how it can replace manual processes with software-based automation solutions, says Fridström. The move is partially driven by cost, but major accelerants include enhanced accuracy and the difficulty recruiting and retaining employees well-versed in both IT skills and communication networks, he says. Read on to learn more from our conversation, edited for length.
Alison Diana: Could you tell us a little more about Telia's pan-European backbone network?
Mattias Fridström: We have a pan-European backbone network and we have a pan-US backbone network we've been building. In Europe we decided to go with Coriant equipment and in the US we have gone with Infinera, pretty much to put pressure on both of them, to tell them, "If you don't behave well, we'll introduce the other one on the other continent." We were one of the crazy companies in the 1998 to 2002 era that was out there digging and building, so basically we ended up with an enormous footprint in Europe based on fiber and that footprint we have now or we did lift up in the early 2000s.
Around 2007, we started to introduce the Coriant equipment. It was Nokia-Siemens at the time. And then, of course, Nokia-Siemens decided to spin off their technical part and that's what is Coriant these days. And then as of late, we've introduced the newest and latest gear from Coriant and right now, we're starting to use their CloudWave system which, in practice, means that we can maximize utilization in the backbone and that's something we have now introduced all over Europe.
AD: Reliability must be critical…
MF: Exactly: Reliability and flexibility. Predictability. We know there will be outages. There are cables that will be cut. There are excavators out there. There are cities that will do some construction. But if you have this flexible network and you have a predictable network, where you know that if there are cuts between, let's say, Atlanta and Charlotte, then you know the B route can be via Dallas and Denver. That's one thing we're working on really hard: To make sure there are always at least two routes between major cities, both in Europe and the US.
AD: As part of this predictability and reliability, are you looking at virtualization?
MF: In the carrier world, there is not that much you can virtualize. But the good thing is all of our customers are thinking about virtualization and therefore there is going to be a lot more traffic to various places. If everyone puts their "special data" in one data center in Frankfurt, for that equipment to be virtualized and spread over Europe, there need to be traffic solutions. I don't think we have that many. We have voice operations, obviously, and there are things in the voice world you can virtualize and that's an area we are looking into; instead of sending out voice boxes to every remote area, we can probably keep that feature somewhere in the middle of the network and then virtually put servers out there that is going to use some software. But virtualization for a big carrier is not that much. On the other hand, the virtualization in the world is going to move a lot of traffic into our network which is perfect for us. We're very, very much in favor of virtualization but there is not much we can do in the virtual world. We just have to make sure we have boxes in between A and B and help everyone who wants to virtualize.
AD: So it's a business driver, not an operational driver?
MF: Exactly. So the likes of Deutsche Telekom and Colt and these guys who have other features for enterprises that can start to virtualize, we have to make sure we become the suppliers to them, for their traffic and their backbone. Then we don't go head-to-head with them for the enterprise market.
AD: Switching gears, I know each time I speak to a CIO, CTO or other top-level executive, a main challenge is hiring and retaining top talent?
MF: In terms of engineers, we're really set. What we lack -- what the whole industry lacks -- is people with IT skills that know networks. More and more things become software, more and more things become steered by software and we have very, very few people who understand the loop between IT systems and networks. I think we have found this year two persons who have that unique skill, and that's really good -- but we need four, five, six more. We have tried and we have looked everywhere throughout Europe, but it's hard to find people with a real IT background but who really understand the network. Most people in the IT world have knowledge of IT systems, like they know Salesforce perfectly, they know SAP perfectly -- but very few of them know what you can do in the SDN world and what happens when everything starts to become virtualized and software-driven. There are very few people who know how you can steer a network via software. That's a piece we lack and there's big competition if anyone hears of a person like.
AD: How is the move to software-based technologies impacting Telia internally?
MF: Of course there's going to be a lot more automation. There are some areas we have a number of manual people. In some cases we don't really have that many, but all the conflagration of the routers of the world are done by four people. If we can further automate that then, of course, we probably need to look at it. It's not going to be a dramatic change but it needs to be a change in the mindset of many people. We have to think about how we can automate instead of think about how we can continue to do it manual. More and more people need to realize we've done this now for 15 years and it's gone well, and we could continue to do it but it's not efficient enough. And of course every time you see a small user mistake you say, "Oops, we should have automated that."
I think most people are prepared it's going to come and of course some people are afraid it's going to take their jobs. We don't have the masses of people doing these jobs like an Orange or a Deutsche Telekom, where they probably have 600, 700 people doing manual things because they have so many more enterprise customers … that need special things and so on. For us, I don't think it's going to be that big dramatic change.
AD: What's the most important or biggest trend you're seeing right now in telecom?
MF: The big trend is this type of self-provision systems that are starting to come onto the market where you, as the customer, pretty much enter your own orders into our systems and into other systems. That's something that's going to come. That has to come. There are customers who say "I need more traffic and I need more traffic today." We can let them manually work in our systems, routers are automatically configured and they will have their upgrade later on that day, that's something we will have to work on and that's a trend in the market that I see coming more and more.
Most of our systems today are standalone. You receive an order from a customer; it can be on paper. Then someone on our side needs to enter that paper into a system, someone else picks it up and configures it in the next system. We really see for tomorrow this has to be one flow. Why even have two manual systems? How can we get away from that? That's something we're working on right now. All of us are sitting with legacy equipment in many places. The incumbents -- like AT&T -- are sitting on hundreds of systems that have been tailor-made. Even though we have maybe 40, 45, but still. Quite a number of them are manual, so it's a challenge.
— Alison Diana, Ambassador, The New IP Agency. Follow her on Twitter @alisoncdiana or @The_New_IP.