Colt prepares new uCPE service for blast off

Colt Technology Services is close to launching a new universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) platform that's the first flavor of its new on demand platforms. 

Colt has spent the past few years overhauling its network infrastructure and systems in order to offer cloud-based, on-demand services to its business customers.

In an interview with FierceTelecom, Colt's Mirko Voltolini, head of network on demand, said the new uCPE service was slated to launch near the end of October. Last month, Adva announced Colt would be using its Ensemble Connector as the network operating system for third-party applications and services, including new virtual network functions (VNFs), SD-WAN and new virtual firewalls.

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Colt came up with three programs for its on-demand platform. The new uCPE offering is part of Colt's cloud-based Stratus project, which will also include NFV orchestration and virtualization of network resources across an NFV telco cloud.

Powered by software-defined networking (SDN) control and orchestration, the Novitas program handles network orchestration, including automated real time service quoting, ordering and delivery, service capability development, and SDN federation.

Sentio is the network intelligence platform that uses machine learning, analytics and artificial intelligence for automated service management, service modification or restoration based on closed-loop automation, and data analysis and correlation.

AT&T Business, Verizon and Orange Business Services, among other carriers, have uCPE services in front of their customers. Colt had previously deployed a virtual CPE offering, as well as SD-WAN, from Versa Networks a few years ago, using white boxes from Advantech. But Voltolini said Colt wanted to do more. 

"We wanted to make our solution more flexible to be able to bring in different types of VNFs," he said. "Rather than having a very fragmented approach where you may have different variations, we have a single, generic universal white box that can host multiple VNFs. That gives us single lifecycle onboarding of VNFs and single lifecycle management of them. So from the creation of the VNF to service management, all of the steps of the lifecycle of a VNF are common.

"We're transitioning from a Versa-based solution to a NFVi-based capability that can hold other service VNFs and is also capable of supporting network infrastructure VNFs.”

Colt will still use white boxes from Advantech for the next generation of its uCPE service, but Voltolini said other vendors were currently being evaluated.

Service providers have groused that today's VNFs are too unique to each vendor that makes them. With Stratus, Colt is putting guidelines in place that allow it to more rapidly onboard vendors' VNFs and services.

With uCPE close to deployment, Colt is also working within Stratus on network functions infrastructure (NFVi) to put compute capabilities at the cloud edge and then NFV orchestration over the top of all of the various functions and services.

The goal of Stratus, which was started earlier this year, is to move beyond basic connectivity by enabling value-added virtual network services that can be spun up or down in real-time.

"Next is the NFV infrastructure, so the edge telco cloud, and we are already in negotiations with a specific supplier for that," Voltolini said. "So it's an integrated system with the hardware and software and then we may use existing suppliers for the umbrella orchestration on top of it.

"As part of the program, and as part of our service development, we thought about new VNFs. So in parallel to the launch in the next quarter of uCPE, we'll redevelop and architect our SD WAN proposition and virtual firewall. We have couple of suppliers lined up for that. We'll take them into the lab and then make them available."

Tweaking the SD-WAN service and adding additional virtual firewall VNFs will, to some degree, repeat some work that Colt has already done, Voltolini said, but the new uCPE platform provides more scalability and flexibility.

"We'll have to do redo a little bit of the technology work that we've done already but in addition to that we will introduce new vendors for firewalls," he said. "We have an existing partnership with Juniper so we'll extend that to include their virtual firewall and for the second one we have a couple of candidates that customers are asking for. Anything from Palo Alto to Fortinet to Checkpoint, so we need to pick another one."

With Stratus in place, Colt will be able to test, onboard and release the VNF firewalls to customers the same way each time. Colt is following the European Telecommunications Standards Institute's NFV reference architecture for Stratus.

Novitas business orchestration

The Novitas platform is the "brain" that sits above other SDN control tools and network orchestration. Colt built Novitas' business orchestration internally by using software development kits and toolkits.

Colt supported 30 data centers across Asia and Europe when it first launched Novitas early last year. Since then, Novitas has been extended into 570 data centers and 20,000 retail buildings in the same regions. Colt officially launched launched its services in the U.S. last month in 13 cities across 30 data centers. Voltolini said Colt would extend Novitas into the U.S. data centers in October.

Novitas features a portal and API layer, the latter of which uses the MEF's LSO (Lifecycle Service Orchestration) API for connections with third-party networks.

Voltolini said that he didn't think containers were far enough along to be used by Colt, but Novitas' internal orchestration was built to use microservices.

"We expect (future) VNFs to be designed with a microservices approach in mind," he said. "That way you can separate different components and you don’t have to duplicate elements across different services.

"If a VNF is well designed, then we can put it on top of our architecture. If it's not well designed, if it's not a known cloud friendly type of VNF, at the moment you may have to live it because it's something that suppliers are driving.  But we'll start to look at how different VNFs perform and select the ones that are working well with our infrastructure. If something is not well designed and is not working well, it may not make it to the final cut."

Sentio network intelligence platform

The third and final leg of Colt's On Demand initiative is Sentio. The plans for Sentio include enabling fully automated service management based on closed-loop automation. Sentio was designed to automate service management, modification and restoration by scaling in and out of VNF resources.

"Today we have a static world with traditional networks that are based on proprietary hardware," Voltolini said. "If something breaks somebody manually tries to fix the problem by analyzing the causes. It takes hours to fix a problem. You have to go through the existing tools with people acting on them.

"In the NFV world, you don't expect things to take hours to happen. You want immediate reactions. So if a VNF fails the system needs to be able to understand what has happened, restart the VNF and put it back where it was before without human interaction. You need to expand the VNF performance with additional VMs (virtual machines) if you want that to happen automatically."

Voltolini said the goal of Sentio was make the network more self-healing and more self-sufficient in order to manage itself.

"This is where we are looking at using AI," Voltolini said. "At the moment we have a couple of proof-of-concepts under implementation where we're looking at some specific of applications.

"We have a lot of information in the network so we're looking at creating our own data lake that can be used to make intelligent decisions. So the goal is collecting our analytics and then driving this closed loop automation through a machine learning-based system. It's a complex set of activities.