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Spark maps network future with SDN and virtualisation

New Zealand telco retailer spies opportunity to expand services and cut costs through software running on commodity hardware.
Written by Rob O'Neill, Contributor

New Zealand telco Spark highlighted its drive to adopt software defined networking and network function virtualisation in a strategy update (pdf) delivered to investors yesterday.

David Havercroft
Spark's chief operating officer, David Havercroft, said the technologies offer quite different opportunities.

SDN allows network services such as provisioning and capacity management to be delivered via software rather than through physical switching and hardware configuration .That capability is now enabling a trial of a new VPN service for small and medium-sized businesses.

NFV promises significant cost savings through the ability to run network functions from off-the-shelf hardware on standard operating systems rather than through expensive proprietary boxes from providers such as Alcatel Lucent and Ericsson.

That also creates an opportunity to use open source products for some functions, Havercroft said.

Spark had been looking at SDN and NFV developments for around 18 months. As part of that it had spoken with Deutsche Telecom, seen as an engineering leader, and with AT&T which is also pursuing a "network on demand" vision.

"We've taken quite a bit of guidance from them," Havercroft said.

Spark's self-install VPN trial is powered by software from Alcatel Lucent's Nuage Networks. SDN in this case replaces expensive equipment and engineers previously required to for deployment and speeds delivery times.
That makes VPN technology more available to small and medium-sized businesses.

NFV helps the telco manage costs in its core networks, especially with demand for data accelerating because of booming online video consumption.

Havercroft said Spark was undertaking vendor trials and issuing RFPs and hoped to have the first significant changes to its network in place in the next year.

Those trials focused on "voice over anything", enabling calls from any device over any network to any device.

Havercroft said Bell Labs estimated savings from NFV at between 15 and 30 percent and Spark was setting that as its goal.

There is a threat in networks that operate like IT systems, however. Havercroft said they offer speed, rapid innovation and falling costs, but familiar IT challenges such as reliability and security need to be watched.

"We want them to be more resilient than IT has been historically," he said.

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