Get ready to replace datacenter appliances with telco services

New platforms are enabling telcos to offer IT-aware services for security, performance and optimization, private cloud, and other functions. Soon enterprises and SMBs can simply use a portal to order a function as a service instead of installing dedicated hardware to run firewalls, VPNs and so much more.

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As 2014 drew to a close, Network World contributor Steve Alexander proclaimed 2015 to be the year that Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) go mainstream. Calling them "transformative technologies," Alexander expects enterprises to consume services from telcos and other service providers instead of buying traditional data center hardware appliances.

Telco Systems is one supplier hoping to make that a reality in 2015. The company recently launched a number of products in its Open Metro Edge line that will help telecom operators transition from providing mere Ethernet connectivity to delivering IT-aware services. The goal is to enable enterprises as well as SMBs to consume various solutions directly from the telco network instead of having dedicated systems and appliances they install and maintain themselves.

With this approach an organization, for example, can get rid of its firewalls, along with the associated maintenance and support contracts, and instead contract for a virtual firewall service. The user organization can access a set of tools – in Telco Systems' case, a portal – to provision, de-provision or otherwise change the virtual services it needs. This means new services can be fully implemented in hours or days as opposed to weeks or months.

Telco Systems is following the application distribution model made popular by Apple and Google. The company has an apps store called TelcoAppStore that contains software products to deliver specific functionality. These apps run over the Telco Systems CloudMetro network that telcos use to provide NFV services to customers.

Today the TelcoAppStore offers virtualized versions of customer-premises equipment (CPE), cloud tunneling, firewall, multimedia quality of experience (QoE), application prioritization on-demand, content delivery network (CDN), and service measurement utility (SMU). Eventually more types of applications are expected to be added as SDN and NFV gain momentum with telcos and their customers in the years ahead. Ideal categories of applications include: 

  • Security/Protection – firewall, VPN, anti-spam/email security, DDoS protection, content filtering
  • Business Applications – CPE, PBX, private business apps, private file sharing
  • Performance/Optimization – WAN optimization, caching, CDN, TCP acceleration
  • Private Cloud – VPN, enhanced privacy, caching/optimization, analytics
  • Testing/Monitoring – SMU, service assurance, QoE testing
  • Elastic network – bandwidth on-demand, auto-scaling, QoE service assurance, monitoring and notifications

Just as Apple's and Google's app stores grew to contain hundreds of thousands of applications, the SDN/NFV ecosystem is expected to grow to offer virtualized services that businesses commonly house in their own datacenters today. Vendors that have already joined Telco Systems' application ecosystem include Check Point Software Technologies, AudioCodes and Netrounds, and many others are in the evaluation process. Telco Systems has an open platform to enable many different types of application providers to port to their solution.

A decade ago, companies struggled with justifying their migration of data-based applications to the cloud. Today it's almost the reverse; they have to justify why they choose to not host applications in the cloud. And so it will be with network functions virtualization. Soon business leaders will be asking their IT managers to justify why they are still maintaining datacenters full of firewalls, VPNs, and other hardware devices that provide services that their telecom operator could provide more cost effectively.

Business agility is another reason to adopt these solutions. For example, suppose a company opens a new facility and wants to install a firewall. The steps for doing this in the traditional way include ordering the device, having it shipped to the location, having someone install it and configure it, attaching it to the Internet service, and then providing ongoing service and maintenance. In contrast, acquiring a firewall as a managed service from a telco involves going on to a portal to turn on the service. The business need can be met a lot faster in this fashion.

Telco Systems says it is involved in a number of proof of concept projects and trials with operators in the U.S. It won't be long until these companies are offering NFV-based services to their customers. It's a start toward making SDN and NFV technologies mainstream in U.S. businesses.

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