Thanks to virtualization efforts that started three years ago, CenturyLink has morphed from a legacy telco into an IT-based services company, but there's still plenty of work to be done.
The reorganization has included moving CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) to cloud-based IP services while leveraging virtualization and software to become more agile and efficient. Starting at the edge of its network, CenturyLink has previously said it wants to hit full global virtualization coverage in its IP core network and data centers by 2018. (See CenturyLink CTO Hussain Maps Out Virtualization.)
CenturyLink's Jim Battenberg, director of platform user enablement, spoke with Telco Transformation recently about the key elements in the company's digital transformation.
Telco Transformation: What is CenturyLink doing in terms of building a platform with open APIs that enable interaction with partners/third-party developers?
Jim Battenberg: The CenturyLink Cloud Platform (Public and Private IaaS and CloudFoundry-based PaaS) is accessible via a RESTful API. For those developing on the platform, we offer SDKs for the most popular languages. including: Java, Microsoft .NET, Python, NodeJS, Ruby, Go and PHP. Conveniently, the platform also is accessible via a single control panel.
With respect to our ecosystem, we offer a couple of different tool sets. Blueprints provide a one-step deployable configuration that can eliminate manual steps otherwise required to deploy a software package. We also now offer an Ansible-based configuration and deployment capability called Runner that offers YAML-based orchestration across multiple clouds.
TT: Is CenturyLink developing any sort of ecosystem around its next-gen back office/BSS capabilities and digital customer experience platforms?
JB: CenturyLink is actively replacing hardware with software over its recently launched Programmable Services Backbone (PSB) to quickly deliver new services to enterprises and small and medium businesses through virtualized functions. CenturyLink and Ciena (formerly Cyan) announced in March 2015 that the PSB will be mobilized by Ciena's Blue Planet NFV Orchestrator. The PSB platform will bring SDN and NFV functions to CenturyLink's core and metro networks, and new next-generation CPE, bringing the company's networking, cloud, hosting and IT services into an integrated offering that will be accessed through a portal and set of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).
CenturyLink began implementing network virtualization and automation in 2013 when it partnered with five vendors to develop an open environment through common API structures, creating interoperability and enhancing the creation of applications. In February 2014, CenturyLink announced its agreement with Ericsson to deliver a next-generation Operations Support Systems (OSS) and Business Support Systems (BSS) solution through a single, reliable transport infrastructure which can rapidly fulfill customer demands and create the support needed for implementing NFV and SDN services.
In addition to Ciena, CenturyLink is working with several vendors, including Arista Networks, Nuage Networks, Red Hat and Supermicro to implement network virtualization functionality.
TT: How is CenturyLink adapting its changing platform strategy to the digital service landscape?
JB: As stated by our Head of Product Management Dave Shacochis in a recent blog post: "Many service providers in the market are focused exclusively on innovating within the cloud services layer, and then partnering for managed services and network connectivity. CenturyLink's strategy however is somewhat orthogonal to this mindset. By contrast, we are focused on a flexible range of options that span managed services, cloud computing and network connectivity."
This strategy simultaneously draws on our heritage, while providing the infrastructure needed to host next-generation applications.
TT: What has CenturyLink deployed in terms of analytics systems that help its customer experience strategy?
JB: CenturyLink is leveraging our own product through the acquisition of Cognilytics, which includes the decision sciences, a strong big data practice and data visualization solutions which focus on enabling decisions for its customers, especially within the IoT realm.
The Cognilytics products include Decision Analyzer, ModelController and Navigator to turn data into insights. Cognilytics brings significant big data and analytics expertise to CenturyLink, which is being leveraged company-wide to drive stronger outcomes in customer experiences, business operations and value creation.
TT: Do standards bodies and industry groups need to do more to develop specifications and best practices around the delivery and management of cloud/IoT/digital services?
JB: I personally think it's far too late for standards bodies to influence the next generation of application development and/or the infrastructure on which it's hosted. There is no IEEE for cloud, so every CSP has its own APIs, based on a varying set of hypervisors, and it's up to the developer to choose which CSP will ultimately run/host its applications. Standards bodies such as NIST and PCI will lay some guidelines and definitions out; however, these are not "standards" per se. Over time, I believe best practices for application development, such as those based on 12-factor methodologies, will bring a coalescence of sorts to the software development community, but I would not expect that to lead to specifications.
For more on CenturyLink's network transformation, check out:
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation