Today, too many organisations are faced with competing choices: do you want speed, availability, stability or cost optimisation? We say you should have a balance of all of them. That’s why we’re enhancing our networks and the models we use to deliver them. And we’re supporting the industry to do the same.
We believe that the next generation of services will be delivered through a combination of the internet and private networks – an intelligent, hybrid network. And they’ll rely on three technologies: NFV, SDN and SD-WAN. By investing in all three, we’re investing in a virtual future that will bring concrete benefits to organisations everywhere.
With NFV the future is flexible.
Network function virtualisation, or NFV, radically simplifies the way organisations try and buy hardware. Gone will be the days of crowded server rooms with hardware piled high. And gone will be the days of taking trips to the server room every time you want to change blades in a server rack or add a new firewall.
With NFV, you can make changes at the touch of a button.
There’s no need to install any new equipment. NFV is your equipment. It’s a single piece of hardware that controls all your software. And you can programme and re-programme it, without replacing or physically changing it.
So now, rather than paying for new hardware, organisations pay for new licenses, giving you the option to pay-as-you-go, or even try before you buy. It’s a shift in the way our industry charges for our services, one that’s ultimately better for today’s rapidly changing businesses.
It’s better for the planet, too. Thanks to NFV, organisations will be running less hardware, lowering their air conditioning costs. They’ll also have more control – wasting less time waiting for kit that’s caught up in customs to arrive. It’ll already be there. And less time always means less money.
With the promise of so many benefits, it’s no surprise that NFV has become a hot topic of late. We’ve been leading the conversation, and research, for many years. Seeing NFV’s potential, we encouraged the industry to work together, we opened discussion forums and we published a now seminal white paper on the topic back in 2012.
We’re already using NFV. In fact, we’re market leaders, offering some of the first global solutions. It’s part of our Cloud of Clouds strategy, which includes embedding Riverbed acceleration technology and Checkpoint firewalls to secure our customers’ networks and get them working harder through the cloud.
With SDN, the future makes you the master of your network.
Software defined networks, or SDN, are already common in data centres, and for good reason. SDN puts system administrators back in control of their networks. They can direct bandwidth where it’s needed, when it’s needed. They can add devices to their network without disconnecting everyone else. And they can use a variety of vendors, rather than being tied to one.
So what’s changed to make this possible as a network solution?
In the days before SDN, getting a clear view of traffic across your network was difficult for one key reason. The control planes, that decide which paths traffic should take, were coupled with the underlying hardware that physically forwards the traffic on (the data planes).
There were several problems with this. Firstly, organisations were left with a device-by-device view of their network instead of the whole picture, making it difficult to control traffic or add new devices.
Secondly, as this system involved using dedicated hardware – switches and routers – to tell data where it needed to go, once the route was set it became hard to change. In some cases users were even locked in to their vendor’s chosen routing protocol.
Today, SDN uncouples the control plane from the underlying hardware. This means system administrators can now programme networks centrally, and virtually – using software. It’s a shift that’s been revolutionising data centres, bringing them the same levels of control the cloud gave us with virtual storage.
We already use SDN within our Cloud Compute, BT Apps and Compute storage services. So we have complete control and can connect our customers to the services they need the most. Fast. Whether that’s a cloud provider, a specific application or storage.
With SD-WAN, the future promises an even better performance.
Now we’ve launched SD-WAN (software defined wide area networks). This is where we expect to see the greatest impact to the market and difference to performance so far. It’s one of the places that we’re focusing our efforts, investment and resources in the immediate future.
SD-WAN brings the benefits you see from SDN and scales them up to cover all your organisation’s networks – helping you find the most effective way to route traffic to different locations and give users the best experience, whatever their bandwidth or connection.
SD-WAN has developed a reputation for hindering rather than helping. Specifically, customers have found themselves inadvertently locked-in to a single vendor, unable to add services from another without buying new hardware. This is the trap organisations fall into if they simply add an SD-WAN on top of their existing WAN. To stop this from happening, and help our customers get the best from SD-WAN, we’re bringing it into our core network in three steps:
- Cloud was just the beginning. SD-WAN is the next stage. And we’re already on the path. The numbers of people storing data and using applications in the cloud is increasing all the time. To make sure we’re ready to support them, we launched Cloud Connect, making it easier for customers to connect to applications from service providers like Salesforce, Microsoft and HP. Quickly and securely. And over the coming months we’ll enhance what Cloud Connect can do – expanding the number of cloud service providers we work with, in even more locations across the world, and offering a broader range of services.
- Delivering intelligent hybrid networks. As many customers choose Cisco’s routers, we’ve worked with them to launch Connect Intelligence IWAN – offering a whole suite of virtual functions, including firewalls, acceleration services and traffic offloading, which work on Cisco’s IWAN hardware. We’re also integrating IWAN into our IP Connect and Cloud Connect services globally, and Ethernet Connect in the UK. This is yet another way we are delivering the benefits of an intelligent hybrid network.
Using a hybrid network – choosing whether your data goes over public or private networks –really does bring the best of both worlds. And choice is key. You can choose put your lowest priority traffic over the lowest cost network. And vice versa. You can do this with Connect Intelligence IWAN or you can do it through our own hybrid solutions. Connect Intelligence IWAN itself gives you more choice. You can add many more services, like acceleration and security. And any hybrid option with us means you can take advantage of the benefits of our Cloud of Clouds strategy. So you can use the network as the platform to a whole portfolio of cloud services.
- Putting customers in control. We’re making our services easier to use through our dynamic portal. So you’ll be able order new software, make changes to your network and increase or decrease your bandwidth when you need to. All with a few clicks on your ‘My Account’ portal.
With NFV, SDN and SD-WAN, the future is yours to control.
We believe these three technologies will deliver the real world benefits the market demands. They’re our long-term focus, and we want other vendors and service providers to work with us to make them their priority, too. In fact, we’re in the process of getting an alternative SD-WAN supplier to sit alongside Cisco.
After all, we’ve all seen the future. We know time is fast approaching when your server rooms won’t need to be filled with all kinds of hardware. You won’t have to visit them every time you need to make a change. Instead, your whole rack will become a few boxes that connect intelligently to your network, adapting to whatever your organisation needs.
Because of that, we know things will be:
- Flexible – Your network will be able to flex at the touch of a button. To meet the demands of your campaigns or busy periods. New connectivity options will also mean that you can set new sites up in days or even hours, rather than weeks or months.
- Quicker to set up – You don’t need to send a network engineer down to your server room every time you want to change something. You do everything through the software. So you can add, change or remove parts in a matter of minutes, not months (with no more waits for the delivery company to arrive with new hardware).
- Easier to change – If you want to make sure your financial data doesn’t go through a particular place (because it’ll violate some data protection laws, for example) you can. You set up the rules, and the system will instantly start using them.
- Fairer to pay for – Your parts aren’t hardware anymore. Before, you’d buy the blade and be stuck with it. When everything is software, you just pay for a licence each month, and stop paying when you don’t need it any more. Or switch to something better. Or get a few more, when the business grows. And there’s no need to cough up a huge initial investment, either. Now, you only pay for what you use.
- Simpler to try out – When everything is software, you’re not committed. If you have an idea, but aren’t sure if it’ll work out, you can test it on a small group – and only pay for the trial. If it works, you roll it out to the whole company instantly. If it doesn’t, you haven’t made a huge loss. The try-before-you-buy pricing model is going to have a big part to play in the future of these technologies. It’s a shift we believe the whole industry needs to make.
- Better for the planet – In a world with less hardware, no one’s wasting energy building physical products for you to install, or flying, sailing or driving them to your office. And now you’ve reduced your server room down to a couple of boxes, you’re not using unnecessary energy to keep all that extra hardware running.
Better service: It’s an evolution, not a revolution.
Your networks solution will not suddenly change overnight, its evolution not revolution. Many new developments will come together over the coming months and years to enable you to create a network like never before.
As your organisation prepares for a virtual future, you’ll need a partner with the know-how to make NFV, SDN and SD-WAN technologies work for you and work with your legacy equipment (until you’re ready for a bigger change).
We already use NFV and SDN technologies with our Cloud Connect and BT Compute services. And we’ve launched our Connect Intelligence IWAN, the first truly global solution. With this, we’ll introduce a centralised reporting system – one that allows our teams to spot, report and solve problems – often before you’ve even had a chance to call our help desk.
In the future, we’ll be expanding. We’re already running trials and working with the industry to create standards that bring this complex landscape together in a simple way.
We’ve played an integral part in launching these technologies, and in pushing the industry to adopt them, too. We deliver the network and the know how to make these solutions successful. This is simply another step in our journey to giving all our customers the faster, flexible reliable services they need. Today. And tomorrow.
So they can network like never before.