Colt Technology Services recently unveiled plans to upgrade and future-proof its network to provide enterprise, carrier and web-centric customers with bandwidth levels of up to 100Gbps, powered by the service provider's investment in software-defined networking and virtualization.
The enhancements, which CEO Carl Grivner describes as disruptive, will allow customers to leverage cloud and on-demand services in their own digital transformations, according to
Colt Technology Services Group Ltd (London: COLT).
To learn more about the state of Colt's current and planned network, the New IP Agency's Alison Diana spoke recently with Nicolas Fischbach, strategy, architecture and innovation director at Colt. Following are excerpts from their email exchange:
New IP Agency: How would you describe Colt's current network? When did Colt last give such a big overhaul to its network?
Nicolas Fischbach: Today we operate three main networks in Europe: an optical long-distance network, a Carrier Ethernet network (which extends into a number of locations in the US) and an IP/MPLS network. These networks span 28 countries, 258 cities and 49 metropolitan area networks. Marketprizm and KVH -- which Colt acquired respectively in 2011 and 2014 -- were operating their own networks on similar technology platforms.
Usually investment cycles follow this pattern: for each technology platform that requires significant new investment and delivers better performance, better unit cost and a better customer experience, the following three to seven years are focused on adding capacity incrementally and expanding the reach of the network. Sometimes another significant investment is made after three to five years mainly driven by demand but often with a regional scope only.
We have deployed an Infinera 10G DTN-based network starting in 2008 and have added the 100G DTN-X to it in 2014. In 2008 we also invested into our first 1G-capable Carrier Ethernet platform with Atrica/NSN and in 2013 we superseded it with our 10G-capable modular Carrier Ethernet platform concept with Cyan, Accedian and Alcatel Lucent. Our IP network has evolved over the years from a single vendor Cisco platform to a multi-vendor environment with the addition of Juniper and Alcatel Lucent. There are only so many large projects that can be executed in a year and there are capex constraints to work with, so one usually spreads the initial investments over a few years.
NIA: Would you describe this as a forklift overhaul? Why is such a dramatic investment in your network so necessary -- and why now?
NF: We have many discrete networks today, for historical reasons and due to M&As, and the evolution of technology now enables us to deliver all these capabilities, features and SLAs using a common packet platform. We believe the right time to invest is now; this is the next radical shift after moving from 100Mb/s to 1Gb/s to 10Gb/s -- the 100G area is upon us. But this isn’t purely a bandwidth capability upgrade; the platforms we selected are also enabling a new customer experience thanks to automation, faster service delivery and self-service. On top of that, having the platform architecture enables us to deliver consistent propositions, globally.
Finally, we are also investing into an optical platform for both metro and long haul services to better serve specific verticals, requiring very high bandwidth between key data centers in selected cities or ultra-low latency services for example.
NIA: Can you please share any figures on the amount Colt's investing or the hours involved? Or any other stats that demonstrate the number of resources Colt is devoting to this network upgrade?
NF: It's a major system-wide network upgrade that will give enterprise, carrier and web-centric customers access to bandwidth levels of up to 100Gbps and enable businesses of all sizes to future-proof their connectivity.
At a time when much of the telecom industry is prioritizing investments in consumer-driven wireless and content assets, Colt is focused on enabling critical business connectivity solutions by building out a multi-terabit optical backbone and next-generation packet network optimized for 100Gbps connectivity.
NIA: How is Colt ensuring system-wide service continues as it conducts the upgrade? What redundancies, etc., do you have in place to prevent lack of service interruption?
NF: Both the next-generation optical and packet networks are green-field deployments which will be interconnected with a subset of the existing networks. There is no impact to the redundancy of the networks currently in production or any service interruptions for live services. Customers will be able to have networks that span both the existing and the next-generation platforms.
NIA: Can you outline some of the planning that went into this network upgrade: For example, when did you begin thinking about doing this? What were some of the technological and business criteria? Who were some of the decision makers within Colt who were involved, beyond the CTO?
NF: Work started earlier this year with a key milestone this summer when we received approval from Colt's board of directors to go ahead with these investments. This was followed by a busy and hectic request for proposal quarter, until we made the final selections. On the technology front, we wanted to make sure the platform can address enterprise and wholesale needs, and have all the key capabilities to deliver high performance and feature-rich IP and Carrier Ethernet services. As well as this, we needed to ensure it supports a very distributed architecture, comes with built-in SDN and NFV capabilities, as well as offering this at the right unit cost. These projects are led by the CTO, architecture and engineering team, and with decision makers from the portfolio group, operations and sales.
NIA: How have you provided for built-in scalability?
NF: Scalability was a key criteria in the RFP process. We spent significant time making sure these are future-proof investments and not incremental component changes that would have to be upgraded or would constrain network growth in a few years. Every vendor has a software and hardware development cycle, and this means timing is key when you do such investments: if your requirements and the vendors' capabilities are aligned in terms of timing that's a good match, if not it's usually a situation where both try to compromise and find a tactical solution, which given the size of the investment and the pace we are executing on was a no-go.
NIA: Currently, a lot of CSPs are only just considering how to move into SDN, NFV, and virtualization. Why is Colt so sure that these technologies are stable enough, mature enough, etc., for such key roles in your business?
NF: Colt is ahead in terms of SDN and NFV solution development. Our NOVITAS platform has already delivered many "Colt OnDemand" capabilities which effectively build on SDN and NFV technologies. For example, we pioneered virtual CPE and are delivering vCPE-based services since late 2012 and have just won another two awards for our SDN and OnDemand capabilities recently at the Capacity Europe and MEF shows. SDN is very much about automation, and this is something we are getting built-in with the next-generation packet network. SD-WAN is a key use-case for NFV and we just announced the launch of this proposition a few weeks ago.
We are making sure the network can deliver these capabilities natively and we are continuing to push the envelope in this space with a fully segmented, routing-enabled network day one. In the optical space, some of these criteria are different, focus is placed more on cost per bit and network design to ensure that the right CDC (contention/direction/color-less) capabilities at the right price point are available with a rapid delivery of wavelength.
NIA: How much customization was required to implement your network?
NF: At the network level there's little customization required, but we are pushing our vendors to support capabilities that we believe are key to delivering key features and high service level agreements. Customization happens at the OSS (operating support systems) layer where processes and workflows need to be modeled into the platform to enable the delivery, activation and assurance of services.
NIA: As the network design evolved, what industry advances in virtualization/specific products helped most?
NF: We've said for many years now that Carrier Ethernet is the mechanism of choice for transport in the access, and we continue to push that. Ethernet and IP convergence is also something we've identified for many years and we were in the process of converging those networks onto a single MPLS-powered backbone -- combining distributed routing with some central intelligence (i.e., SDN), and then Segment Routing, which combines the best of both worlds.
Open source doesn't play too much into the core network space; there are SDN controllers and there's continued talk about white box solutions at the network edge, but the maturity of the latter wouldn't allow us to deliver the capabilities we require today. We see open source as playing a significant role in our NFV compute stack, where we cycle through designs much more quickly than other more hardware-heavy investments.
NIA: Are you expanding beyond your current 680 data centers?
NF: To begin with we are offering direct 100Gbps connections to 200 data centers across Europe. We plan to expand this set as time goes on and expand the number of indirect connections to data centers.
NIA: What lies ahead?
NF: Colt is investing heavily in its core strength, the network, to stay ahead of the business transformation curve. As the applications and infrastructure that power tomorrow’s businesses increasingly move into the cloud and the data center, the demand for reliable, scalable, and high-quality, business-grade connectivity continues to grow. To enable this transition, Colt is driving a data center-focused, distributed network topology, offering direct 100Gbps connections to over 200 key data centers, carrier hotels and cloud aggregation points -- putting customers closer to the core of their digital business.
— Alison Diana, Editor, The New IP Agency. Follow her on Twitter @alisoncdiana or @The_New_IP.