Through its investment in virtualization, broadband service provider WOW! expects to deliver new business services, cut costs, optimize existing infrastructure investments and compete head-on with tier one operators.
The Denver-based company recently began field-testing Juniper Networks Cloud CPE solution platform to deliver new services to business customers. (See WOW Trials Juniper vCPE for Business.) The investment is part of WOW!'s software-defined, virtualized future that retains the value of its legacy systems, says Eric Fligel, vice president of Network Engineering at WideOpenWest Holdings LLC (WOW) , in an interview.
"I'm a big proponent of automation. I'm a big proponent of what software can do on networks in general and as that progresses and as the concept of NFV grew, I felt that for WOW!, focusing in that area can help us be nimble, help us stay competitive in the marketplace and as really a foundational technology play allow us to grow and expand in multiple areas of the business," he says. "It's really stemmed out of how do we position ourselves to compete most effectively and we felt technology, specifically software and software networks, was a powerful way to do that.
"As much as I think maybe the new product offerings get much of the hype, I think it's a significant driver, it's also changing and evolving how we design our internal networks, how we build the infrastructure to support all our existing products, how we deliver video, how we deliver voice infrastructure on current legacy platforms as we're evolving those," Fligel adds. "So in those areas it's maybe not so much how do we enable new revenue, but it's how do we maximize and optimize the revenue of those legacy services? It's really about an entire framework that will allow us to quickly adapt, be flexible, quickly grow and scale those services and really standardize and scale the cost of growing those services."
In the beginning
A long-time Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) customer, WOW! spent a couple of years determining its business and technological plan before scrutinizing vendors, says Fligel. The service provider's interest in Juniper's virtualization solutions -- including the Contrail Cloud Platform, vSRX Virtual Firewall and Contrail Service Orchestration -- was sparked when it attended one of the vendor's more than 200 customer creation workshops, Donyel Jones-Williams, director of Service Provider Portfolio Marketing at Juniper, tells the New IP Agency.
"This whole activity was one to make customers like WOW! aware of NFV solutions and, not necessarily make it around the product but around the new business opportunities that can exist by leveraging NFV and by helping them work through some of the financials internally to justify moving toward NFV. That was essentially the catalyst that kicked off how we engaged with them," he says. "We're moving now from the whiteboard and PowerPoint and spreadsheets to the actual trials so they can actually realize the vision that we have and they have during customer workshops."
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The discovery process uncovered a "unique access layer" within WOW!'s network that Juniper and the service provider needed to take into consideration during the design, says Jones-Williams. WOW! wanted to incorporate this layer, not remove or replace it, he notes.
"We wanted to look to NFV as an overlay initially to do a field trial with, so that there wasn't a huge amount of capex or opex spent trying to augment or layer in to the access layer to the end customer. So for them it was, 'Let me look at my infrastructure and look to NFV to essentially offer new offerings.' Allowing them to build a central cloud in their network allowed them easily to meet that need. That helps frame up where they're starting from and why they're starting from there," Jones-Williams says. "They definitely see the vision to move off the model that you've seen from AT&T and Verizon by actually putting a distributed platform on-prem, but they want to start centralized so they can take advantage of their existing access layer and overlay NFV on top of that with new services.
"One of the things that is nice is they don't have to touch any of their existing provisioning systems or any of the existing methodologies for the customer access. It comes back into their cloud so all of that stays the exact same. The process that we're working with them on is really the integration of how the NFV stuff gets provisioned with the existing provisioning systems, over Ethernet services or DOCSIS services to get connectivity back into that cloud," he adds.
Juniper's professional services team worked with WOW! on interoperability, integration and knowledge transfer, amongst other facets of the contract.
The field trial will last for the next few months as WOW! gathers feedbacks and makes adjustments, says Fligel. The service provider's marketing and product teams are responsible for timing the go-to-market and roll-out plans, he adds.
But Fligel expects the trial will demonstrate faster delivery of new services, expanded automation, improved customer service and other benefits that translate to more revenue or lower costs.
"It's really about translating those savings into dollars. Not everything is that way. In some cases from an operational perspective it may be my engineering teams get excited because something's just easier. That's a tougher sell. You need to show outages have gone down, interruptions to customer services -- which are financially impactful – have been reduced, profitability has gone up because now it's less expensive for us to deliver this or revenue's increasing," he says. "That's the typical equation rate. We've got to take those little pieces and point it back to savings or dollars."
CSPs are only now beginning to realize the benefits of virtualization, Fligel notes. As technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning become tightly integrated with virtualization, service providers' capabilities -- and benefits -- will only surge, he says.
"It's bigger than just providing a new product to a customer in that now we can virtualize your firewall. While that's exciting and that's great, it's so much more than that. I really think we're only just beginning to see what's possible such that when you bring in machine learning and artificial intelligence and all those sorts of things that's when we'll ultimately get to this self-driving aware technical ecosystem that brings all this stuff together in a way that is extremely flexible, extremely nimble and incredibly powerful for customers and powerful for business," says Fligel.
— Alison Diana, Editor, The New IP Agency. Follow her on Twitter @alisoncdiana or @The_New_IP.
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