Ciena Intros On-Demand Network Function Virtualization for Service Providers
Network Function Virtualization enables common network functions in commodity hardware instead of specialized equipment.

Ciena Intros On-Demand Network Function Virtualization for Service Providers

Agility Matrix is a marketplace of NFV features service providers can offer their customers as they sell them, without upfront commitments

Network technology company Ciena introduced a marketplace of on-demand network function virtualization from several virtual appliance vendors that let’s a customer try the functions out on-demand and without upfront payment. The software platform is called Agility Matrix and is a way for service providers to offer up network function virtualization without paying upfront for a block of NFV licenses.

Compute and storage are flexible thanks to virtualization, and now the network continues to get the virtualization treatment. Networks remain rigid, but Ciena looks to change the business and consumption model of enterprise network connectivity. It enables a more flexible experience for the enterprise customer and service provider. It’s enabling the service provider to have a flexible network offering to upsell overtime.

There is a push by vendors to offer ways to use NFV to service providers. HP recently partnered with Wind River to sell NFV solutions to carriers. Intel (which controls Wind River) has partnered with Telefonica and Red Hat to build NFV solutions. Both partnerships are based on open source technology.

A service provider typically needs to pay upfront for a block of NFV licenses, which means expense before revenue. In the Agility Matrix model, service providers only pay for them as they are used by the enterprise customer. It lowers some of the financial risk of offering virtual functions.

It acts as a repository or library of offerings of several network hosts, and makes physical appliances and different functions all work within the on-demand billing model. The company is in trials with some service providers and said that the response has been good.

One example of a virtual function is performance testing, which requires a large upfront investment and doesn’t need to be performed 24/7. Ciena's marketplace makes performance testing available on an hourly basis. However, Wide Area Network optimization will likely be charged on monthly or yearly basis, since it’s used constantly.

"The demand is to move away from the physical and to the virtual,” said Kevin Sheehan, vice president and general manager at Ciena Agility, a new division the company has also announced. “This shift is definitely happening.”

The new division will focus on software innovation and encompass Ciena’s existing Software Defined Networking solutions, the Agility Matrix solution announced today, as well as all future SDN and NFV development.

“We are transforming raw capacity into capability that delivers on-demand network-based services in a manner that mimics the ease and instantaneous nature of an online shopping experience,” said Sheehan. “The new Ciena Agility division is organized to quickly respond to the market demand for these customer-driven software solutions.”

Appliance vendors initially available on Agility are BlackRidge Technology, Brocade, Certes Networks, Silver Peak, and Spirent Communications. The partnerships are not exclusive, as the company is looking to create an ecosystem.

“NFV promises attractive benefits for providers and operators, but with considerable adoption risk," said Eric Hanselman, chief analyst at 451 Research. "An approach like Ciena’s Agility Matrix could lower that risk while providing a direct path to revenue for both operators and Ciena’s VNF Market partners. Progress in NFV has been rapid and it’s operational implementations that will deliver greater value.”

Ciena expects the Agility Matrix solution to be generally available in the second calendar quarter of 2015.

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