If you want to be able to turn network services on and off the same way you do virtual machines, some big carriers are starting to think like you.
On Thursday, Verizon announced a set of enterprise services defined and activated through software, a move intended to help both the carrier and its customers save money and respond more quickly to changing needs. It could mean firing up a new carrier Ethernet link to a branch office in minutes instead of months, for example.
Verizon’s Virtual Network Services announcement comes soon after AT&T introduced its own set of software-defined services and then partnered with Orange to help move more service smarts from hardware into software.
All these steps mark progress for SDN (software-defined networking) and NFV (network functions virtualization), complementary technologies that are gradually doing for wide-area networks what virtualization has done for data centers.
The services Verizon announced on Thursday can run at a customer’s own site, in the cloud, or on a combination of these. Among the services are security, WAN optimization and SD-WAN. They use technology from vendors including Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks, Riverbed Technology, Palo Alto Networks, Viptela and Fortinet. The services will be available in 53 countries this month and 67 by the end of August.
Though the basic ideas are the same, Verizon’s approach to virtual services is different from AT&T’s, IDC analyst Nav Chander said. AT&T has more of a pure “white box” strategy toward hardware, supplying its own uCPE (universal customer premises equipment), while Verizon calls its gear “gray box.” There’s more intelligence built into this equipment than in white-box gear, according to Verizon, but the idea is the same: One box can run services from multiple vendors. Verizon also says customer premises hardware from vendors like Cisco will be able to run services from competing vendors in the future.
Another difference is that AT&T bases its virtualized network on its own software platform, called ECOMP, which it is now offering as open source. Verizon is crafting solutions with partners more than building a whole foundation itself, Chander said.
Both approaches give enterprises more freedom to put together the sets of services they need and get them from different sources, he said. Companies can even have Verizon virtualized services delivered over another service provider’s network, for example.
This new flexibility is important as enterprises rapidly change the way they consume IT, embracing cloud providers like Salesforce and Amazon Web Services, while worrying even more about network security and reliability, Chander said. The average enterprise will double or triple the number of cloud providers it uses over the next two years, according to an IDC survey in the U.S. and U.K.
“Networking is becoming more and more critical [with] more cloud-based services,” Chander said.