Riverbed Sees Service Networks as the Future

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Orange Business Solutions (OBS) is moving into the future by partnering with Riverbed to improve the management of OBS's hybrid networks (see the press release). Riverbed’s SteelConnect™ SD-WAN solution will enable OBS customers to move past the responsibility of setting up networks or adapting legacy hardware.

We sat down with Phil Harris, Senior Vice President of the Service Provider Vertical at Riverbed, to discuss how network architecture has changed from implementing network hardware to providing network as a service (NaaS) to adapt to changing business needs. 

Q. Why does a company like OBS care about the shift in focus from networks being hardware-centric to software-centric? And what should a customer of OBS expect from this?

A. OBS is heavily investing in software-defined networking capabilities to better address the capacity needs of their enterprise customers and to deliver superb user experiences with business applications. An SD-WAN solution like SteelConnect is a foundation for developing future networking services that can be brought to market faster and are more aligned to customers’ business needs.

Many OBS customers are not interested in technology purchases. Instead, they’re interested in specific business outcomes. They look to OBS to assume the responsibility of technology acquisition, and then offer services OBS’s customers can consume on demand. For its part, OBS is looking for immutable infrastructure.

Q. What is immutable infrastructure?

A. Immutable, in its classic sense, has the connotation of never changing. In this context, it means it doesn’t need to change because, rather than trying to change something, it’s faster to dispose of it and create something new.

If a company can now create that new network service in near real time, then why bother changing the old? Instead, they can simply use an existing service; and if it’s no longer useful, destroy it, and then create something new that meets the new requirements. Companies can do that as often as they need to, as long as the new service is non-disruptive to the consumers of an existing service.

Q. What do you mean when you say, “Network as a Service?”

A. Network as a service in our context is the stepping stone or ladder that lets the service provider and the customer build higher-value services on top of existing network infrastructure.

This is the whole model we’re working towards, and we will not just stop with network as a service. Soon the hybrid VPN solutions that bring together existing telecom services and next-generation SD-WAN services will become foundations for other even more sophisticated and value-creating services.

From a cloud perspective, the analogy between network as a service and infrastructure as a service works very well because people have built multiple layers of services on top of cloud services platforms. The closer and closer they get towards the business, the less and less they are focused on the technology, which is really what the enterprise is looking to do.

Q. If I set up a company branch location, I still need hardware there. There has to be a copper line or fiber; I still may have to wait on a box to connect to the network. So how can someone eliminate proprietary hardware completely? What is your thinking on that?

A. Yes and no. One of the big paradigm shifts in the service-provider world is the move to something called network function virtualization (NFV). The basic principal of NFV is the democratization of hardware. The service provider world is becoming more cloud-centric by moving away from proprietary, highly specialized, and expensive hardware and towards standard and cheaper infrastructure while still maintaining the telco KPIs of 99.999% availability.

Q. So a future network service can just use existing hardware?

A. Once standard industry hardware is in place, new services can be deployed to that box, or boxes, in near real time — be it firewalls, content caches, load balancers, SD-WAN gateways, and so on. In the NFV world, a technology refresh simply becomes a software upgrade without the need to replace hardware appliances.

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