Total Telecom caught up with Claudio Scola, Head of Product Management for EMEA at CenturyLink, a leading technology company delivering hybrid networking, cloud connectivity and security solutions, to discuss the developments in today’s connectivity landscape

What trends are you noticing developing in the industry at the moment?

The move to the cloud has allowed IT and the wider business to become much more flexible and responsive to customers, delivering applications faster than ever before, and that’s pushed the agility bottleneck from the data centre to the network. Enterprises want more agile networking solutions to meet their ever-changing needs and to support their digital business initiatives.

In response, the latest network technology innovations are being designed to match the speed and flexibility of the cloud, incorporating virtualization and built-in automation, holistic management and inherent security. These capabilities are key to creating an intelligent and adaptive digital business infrastructure that can meet the application performance levels demanded by the business and its customers.


How is the industry creating greater agility in the network?

SD-WAN is a key accelerator of network and business agility. It enables organisations to use multiple access technologies, have centralised network control and be application aware. Many organisations are using more Software as a Service (SaaS) applications than they realise, and many of these are business-critical. It’s important to have end-to-end visibility of these applications and the ability to prioritise them across the network. That wasn’t possible with legacy solutions.

However, SD-WAN doesn’t control the underlay connectivity. Improved network automation and orchestration have been long-awaited changes. A new class of dynamic networking services are delivering responsive, secure, real-time provisioning, in the same way as cloud service utilization is optimized. For example, an API can now connect to the network infrastructure to automatically provision and scale bandwidth and create dynamic connections from a customer site to the cloud.

CenturyLink works closely within MEF, the industry association committed to accelerating adoption of assured services across automated networks, to advance the MEF framework and enable agile, next-generation network services.


What role will SDN and NFV play in the networks of the future?

SDN and NFV have been transformative in enabling virtualization of network functions, faster development and deployment of new service offerings and a reduction in the costs associated with those processes. Moving forward, as demand for computing capabilities at the edge of the network increases, these technologies will play an important role at both the provider and the customer edge, where services are defined. SDN and NVF enable the cloud to become the network and the network to become the cloud.  This will enable us to move workloads closer to the edge where appropriate.

At CenturyLink, we are making a major investment to build out and support edge compute services. Our dynamic networking capabilities can provide real-time network provisioning from the customer premise to CenturyLink’s edge locations. We are using our SDN and Cloud Connect Dynamic Connections platform to provide connectivity to Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services.


In your opinion, can you over automate a network?

The benefits of automation are clear. It is the glue in the next generation of data-driven networks, providing more control over services as we work towards faster, more automated data cycles that can flex more easily to the needs of an organisation. It also reduces costs and frees up resources, allowing IT teams to tackle other priorities.

The extent to which you build automation into the network infrastructure depends upon individual business requirements. Some organisations will benefit from a fully automated network service, others will require a more customised network service with the flexibility to manually intervene to meet bespoke requirements.

Key to the success of network automation deployments is to avoid automating badly designed processes, or you just end up with a faster poor process. You can work around sub-standard processes manually, but once you automate those processes problems can escalate.


What are your predictions for the global telecoms industry over the next 12 to 18 months?

We will see increased automation between network service providers to address the network agility bottleneck. A big focus will be to develop solutions that achieve cloud-like flexibility in the network, to manage the pace of data production that will result from the acceleration of digital business, big data and IoT.

As online media viewership continues to grow, it will drive increased demand for Content Delivery Network services to deliver fast, high-quality digital content, to any type of device.

5G will start to gain momentum. The rollout will rely on a robust level of infrastructure investment so we will see significant further developments in this space. For example, CenturyLink is creating a 4.7-million fibre mile intercity network across the US and parts of Europe that will expand optical reach and capacity. This will further improve the scalability of our network to meet the high bandwidth demands of emerging technologies such as 5G.