Verizon: Service chains are essential and automation is a key focus

Verizon has orchestration in place across its network to support various delivery models and services as it continues to build out closed-loop automation.

In an interview with FierceTelecom, Verizon's Shawn Hakl, senior vice president, business products, and Vicki Lonker, vice president, network and security product management, spoke about the importance of automation across the telco's network and service chains.

Verizon has been building service chains for some time now. The service chains are prepackaged offerings that combine Verizon's infrastructure with software and hardware from vendors.

"We've built a very, very deep implementation of orchestration with closed-loop service assurance," Hakl said." So we have the ability to build service chains composed of multiple functions. Customers don't want to buy a router and they don't want to buy a firewall. They want to connect a set of users to a set of applications.

"What we do is we build service chains that allow people to implement business outcomes in the network, not just virtual versions of boxes with blinking green lights."

The service chains are foundational to Verizon's approach to the services and applications that it delivers to enterprise customers, but there have been challenges due to a lack of standards.

"Everyone talks about how their functions work, and they all probably work pretty well independently, but when you try to chain them to one another—like the specific pieces of hardware on specific hypervisors on specific networks—there's all kinds of new variables that get introduced to the equation," Lonker said. "Most of my team's development this year has been around automation and introducing and continuing to upgrade the catalog of service chains we have available."

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Closed-loop automation is key to not only getting services up and running—by reducing the amount of human intervention—but also making sure that they function the way that are supposed to.

"It's fairly easy to turn on a box that has an SD-WAN solution pre-built into and get it running with the network," Lonker said. "But getting those things loaded with other capabilities, like security from another partner, and making sure they can be supported through their lifecycle is something all together different.

"These are the kinds of things we've been working through this year as we've continued to build that closed-loop service automation."

While Verizon participates in open-source groups, such as the Metro Ethernet Forum, Lonker said the challenges getting new applications and services  to market quickly.

"Sometimes it's just not as fast to reach agreement on standards and then to have everyone go design to those as opposed to just getting it done through some very focused attention by a limited number of groups," she said.

Lonker's team has also been working on creating tools and capabilities that give customers even more control of their services and applications. Through its Verizon Enterprise Center (VEC) portal, customers can modify their services for SD-WAN and virtual network services from policy and routing perspectives. They can make those adjustments based on network conditions at a given timeor the need for more bandwidth.

"They have control over some of the security policies and we continue to roll out new capabilities and an agile framework that give them even more control," Lonker said. "I'm working now on one that allows them to design their services and their service chains independent of having one of our service architects do that for them. Today we typically have some specialized engineers doing that. We're trying to take those same tools the engineers use and push them out so customers can use them.

"Customers always worry about whether since it's a managed service does that mean they lose control and visibility? So we're making sure to assure them, that no, you don't lose all of that. In fact, you might even have greater control and visibility while someone else still is managing it and making sure all the functions work together."