At Genband Perspectives 16 held in Orlando, Florida, the company has given customers a view into where it is moving over the next few years. Unsurprisingly that move is all about software and cloud with Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) and Software Defined Networks (SDN) the goal. This is good news but what is surprising is that Genband is sticking to its guns and targeting the carriers and service providers rather than making an overt play for the enterprise.
In a live on stage demo John McCready, EVP and Chief Strategy Office, Genband and Paul Miller, Vice President, Technology and Strategy, Genband deployed a complete network from scratch. The entire demo was run from a laptop using cloud services, VMware virtual machines and Genband software. The message from the demo was unequivocal, you can deploy a network wherever and whenever you need.
Mixed messages from Genband
Over the last couple of years there has been a degree of mixed messages coming out of Genband. It has built a solid investment in NFV and SDN with a number of patents. In January it won a court case against Metaswitch who Genband claimed had infringed a number of its patents. That patent library will be key to Genband carving out a section of this market.
A year ago McCready was talking about how Genband was transitioning from its legacy hardware business to a software business. Despite this apparently lead and experience in the market McCready told the audience that Genband now considered NFV to be a very real trend. His statement on stage seemed to imply that Genband had yet to finish that transition. That changed as McCready and Miller showed the software elements that Genband already had and were coming. Those that were still not quite there are the three key elements, provisioning, analytics and cloud manager. Once these are in place McCready believes it will enable customers to start deploying the Genband NFV/SDN solution.
At Mobile World Congress earlier this year, HPE and Genband showed off the Genband Wireless Access Gateway (WAG) as part of the HP Helion OpenStack carrier-grade platform. Both companies also confirmed the Genband WAG and the Genband NFV Cloud Manager software would be integrated into HPE’s solution. Since then there has been little said about the progress of this solution. Despite that, McCready was quick to name HPE along with VMware, OpenStack, Canonical (Ubuntu Linux), Intel and Dell as partners it was working with to deploy NFV solutions.
Disappointingly despite calling out Canonical, HPE and OpenStack, Genband is not listed as a contributor to OpenStack Neutron or the OpenDaylight project. It will be interesting to see now that it is able to deploy a complete network if it starts to engage more with these projects either through code contribution or certifying its solutions to be compliant with them. Last year the OpenStack Foundation cracked down on the amount of proprietary code in OpenStack distributions. As NFV and SDN mature it is likely that we will see similar pressures for vendors to be more open.
It’s all about agility and cost
McCready was very clear about why companies would want to get into NFV saying: “NFV means that orchestration can allow you to dynamically add or subtract elements to your network. This means that you can spin up a network where necessary. This leads to a major saving in CAPEX as there is no infrastructure to buy.”
The point McCready was making is that NFV is no different to any other cloud service. Deploy close to where you need it, destroy what you don’t want and over time, as you tune your orchestration, there will be little wasted capacity on the network. With Miller managing the demo and showing how easy it is to deploy and even destroy a complete network the point was well made.
Was wasn’t talked about was resilience. Mobile and fixed line network operators have invested heavily in technology and infrastructure to ensure that their networks are resilient to any outages. Despite this we’ve seen many instances where networks were overwhelmed due to incidents such as terrorist attacks or major disasters. Most police forces around the world have the power to shutdown or restrict access to mobile networks in an emergency so that they can use them to provide information to emergency workers.
This is where NFV and in particular Miller’s demo comes in. It would enable an operator to quickly deploy additional network assets during an emergency and deploy them faster than the surge in demand. As that surge peaks, the assets can be released and eventually the network will settle down. Unfortunately, without a carrier partner on stage to talk about this both Miller and McCready chose not to focus on this particular benefit.
It was good to see Genband demonstrating the ease with which an entire network could be deployed using NFV. This is something that few people in the audience will have seen from any vendor before and looking around the room there was a lot of interest. What remains to be seen is how quickly Genband can complete its build out of its NFV/SDN solution. Once that happens it will be interesting to see just how many of its existing customers are willing to transition from their existing generation of technology to a software driven world.