Colt CEO Grivner: SDN and employees shine in time of coronavirus pandemic

The silver lining for tough times is that crises can cause the cream to rise to the top. That's the case for Colt Technology Services' employees and its software-defined network as both work to keep pace with increased bandwidth demands due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Colt Technology Services' decision to invest heavily in SDN-based networking is foundational to ability to handle those increased traffic loads. According to Colt CEO Carl Grivner, his company has seen a 30% to 40% increase in usage on its data network and 50% to 60% spikes in voice services over the past couple of months.

"We're seeing incredibly positive feedback from our customers as we continue to serve them during this awful, critical time in the industry," Grivner said in an interview with FierceTelecom. "We have shown ourselves very well, and that really comes down to our people stepping up, as well as the fact that years ago we invested in a high-bandwidth network that is now paying dividends in terms of our ability to turn up additional capacity.

"Having a state-of-the-art network is a big advantage. Once you have the chassis in place, the cards in place, it's more software at that point in time, and turning it up is a much easier task than it was six, seven years ago.

Carl Grivner, Colt Technology Services

Software-defined networking (SDN) has evolved beyond its classic, capex-saving early days into more network-based customer applications and services. Colt embarked on its SDN journey more than four years ago with its On Demand project. The On Demand project, which is known internally as Novitas, handles the SDN orchestration, including automated real time service quoting, ordering and delivery, service capability development, and SDN federation.

"I remember people talking about 'Well, what's the business case for this?' and at the time there was no business case," Grivner said of Colt's move to SDN. "It was one of those things you have to take a bet on and believe that this is the future of telecommunications and certainly the network business. Even before the pandemic, it was starting to get legs. Now I think it (SDN) will be up and running quite extensively because of this, and more people are going to want to have it in place just so they can turn up or turn down bandwidth. Because who knows how long this is going to last or what the next situation may be?

"I think now SDN has found its world to some extent, but I would've hoped that it would've been under better circumstances than this."

AT&T is an early proponent of SDN for its network, and it's also been embraced by Orange, Verizon and other cable and telco service providers.

"The future of telecom, and I think you're seeing it right now, is the ability to drive more capabilities through software than physical hardware," Grivner said. "There's always going to be a physical aspect to it, of course, but more and more demand will require companies to be software-focused more so than anything else, which is a big change."

RELATED: Colt launches On Demand services in U.S. and other countries

Colt Technology Services announced in May of last year that its On Demand services were available in the U.S., Hong Kong, Portugal, and Austria. As the name implies, Colt's On Demand bandwidth service allows customers to spin up additional bandwidth as needed in near real time. It first launched in Europe threes years ago and was rolled out into Asia Pacific in 2018.

The Colt IQ Network, which launched in 2016, connects high bandwidth services to more than 900 connected data centers across Europe, Asia and North America, with more than 29,000 on net buildings. Colt's customers include organizations spanning over 213 cities in more than 30 countries.

"We have some customers on the data side requesting 20 times their normal capacity at this point in time," Grivner said. "I think that trend that, unfortunately, is going continue for a while in terms of bandwidth requirements. It comes down to connectivity to the cloud, as well as connectivity to their corporate network, which is the reason for the increased bandwidth."

By region, Grivner said Europe has been "exceptional in terms of demand" as Colt's customers have sent their employees home to work.

"As I said, a lot of that is cloud connectivity," he said. "Businesses are still running and still operating. Cloud connectivity, which is what we we're selling and marketing before, is quite in demand. We really haven't seen any slowdown in terms of connectivity requirements. In both Asia and in Europe it's still fairly high, and I think it will stay that way for the foreseeable future."

While the data network is robust, Grivner said Colt would upgrade its voice network to keep pace with the surge voice calls.

"Voice has been a little bit of a surprise," he said. "We've gone back to the old fashioned days of voice and people communicating by picking up a phone. Building a network that was going to project growth in voice was not one of the things that we were focused on.

"So, that's one of the things that I think will continue to grow during this. We'll upgrade our voice network, at least to see us through this crisis for however long it lasts."

Like most of its business customers, Colt directed almost all of its 5,000 employees to work from home several weeks ago. And like those customers, Grivner said Colt had to upgrade its own VPN capabilities.

"That's been another growth area for us, as well as our customers," Grivner said. "No one anticipates all 5,000 of their employees working from home. That's been a definite growth area for us."

Grivner said that from a customer perspective, keeping networks up and running, answering phone calls and emails, and upgrading network capabilities on the fly "gives people confidence" and creates a positive environment during these difficult times.

"I want to thank all the people at Colt that are doing a great job," Grivner said. "And I also want to thank a lot of the companies like Colt. Everybody's jumped in trying to help one another throughout all of this. It's a sense of cooperation and collaboration to better serve all of our customers on a global basis.

"The future of this business is more and more software capabilities that the vendors provide, and we will develop our own software capabilities beyond things like software-defined networking, introducing artificial intelligence, more so into the workplace, and things like blockchain potentially as well."