ZCorum s Ask a Broadband Expert Series:

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1 s Ask a Broadband Expert Series: The Advantages of Network Virtualization An Interview with Peter Olivia, Director of Systems Engineering ZCorum North Point Parkway, Suite 125 Alpharetta, GA ZCorum.com TruVizion.com Facebook.ZCorum.com Twitter.com/ZCorum

2 1 Peter Olivia is the Director of Systems Engineering for ZCorum and joined the company in An honors graduate of the University of Florida, Pete resides with his family in Marietta, Georgia. We sat down with Pete to discuss virtualization and how it applies to broadband operators. We asked him to shed some light on some of the issues with operators implementing this and how they can determine if it s a good fit for them or not. ZCorum: How did virtualization become the new way for networks? Peter: What initially lead people to virtualization was trying to provide space for more hardware as their networks grew. They had bought all this equipment upfront that was taking up a lot of space. Every time they needed to add a new application or service they had to make room for more hardware. Short of adding a room on to their building or something, they began to think about other options. The reality was all this hardware they currently had was just sitting there and 90% of it was being underutilized. There was a lot of wasted space on the boxes. From that came the concept of what if I put 10 applications on one box instead of buying nine more boxes. And it worked. Now their capital outlay for hardware was reduced to 1/10 th of the cost from the original model of doing things. Those extra resources could then be shared across other environments. Since an application is simply processing power, memory, and some code, you could move hardware in and out and it wouldn t matter. ZCorum: Who should consider virtualizing their network? Peter: First off, anyone that has old physical network gear. The model used to be that everyone had to buy their own hardware every time they wanted to run a new or different system or application. And they had to consider the questions of; how available does the hardware need to be, does it need to hold power, does it need redundant drives, etc. Not to mention the cost, complexity, and time to make that all happen. Second, if that hardware dies they have to replace it, and if new hardware wasn t readily available they d have down time. That would mean unhappy subscribers. Virtualization changed all that. The type of hardware doesn t matter so much anymore. In virtualization servers can be moved around, even multiple times in a day, while it s still running without anyone noticing. Virtualization allows you do build one set of resources as a general template and make that highly available for cloning or duplicating in order to aid in upgrading, troubleshooting and testing without down time. ZCorum: What are the advantages to doing this? Peter: Virtualization eliminated a lot of hardware costs, labor costs, allowed more flexibility, and gave better uptime for the network. If one application needed more resources, you d already have it on hand. An upgrade used to go like this... buy a new box, get somebody to install, retest the application. Now none of that needs to be done. Now an upgrade is literally, power it off, give it more, power it on and it s done. The server and application have no clue what they re on, they just run. Another major advantage is the mobility it gives you in relation to your data center. With virtualization you can have multiple data centers, which is a big advantage especially if you have customers spread all over the country. Say you re located in Atlanta but need a data center on the west coast to better serve 1

3 2 your customers, there are tools that will copy all of your data to San Francisco, adjust the network and DNS, all with no outage. And you now have two data centers, one on each coast but without the cost of a physical building and hardware. ZCorum: Would there be any advantages to broadband operators changing over as far as their broadband business? Peter: You can gain all of those advantages we talked about, but let s put it into a practical sense. Their billing systems, operational support systems, company IM systems, and corporate mail services, marketing, finance, etc., they all run on hardware. If they want to take old gear and consolidate it or upgrade it, they re suddenly looking at a big capital expense. In the past, you had to buy another box, and then build the infrastructure before you can even get started. The beauty of virtualization is all that becomes unnecessary. As an example, who wants to go out and buy hardware and other materials to build it all out? You don t need that. In this case, you ve already got equipment, and if you want to upgrade or bring on more customers, you ve already got the ability on hand. Then there s the speed of your deployment the setup, scheduling resources, all that delay is eliminated. You don t want to find yourself in the situation that your competitor is killing you because they re offering all these other things you don t have but you can t get them because of all the costs involved. You don t want to be living in the past and spending your money on buying physical equipment instead of investing in the latest and greatest thing that your subscribers are demanding. ZCorum: There s a troubleshooting advantage, right? Peter: Absolutely. In addition to the hardware cost savings, and speed of deployment, there s the ability for fast recovery when there s a problem. You hear all the time about technicians having to drive to different locations for troubleshooting. Virtualization eliminates having to drive to the data center. You just go into the tool, view the console, view everything from boot-up, and you can do whatever you want. In the past when you had an outage you had to take the whole thing offline, and if the box is trashed, build it from scratch and hope the back-ups were good. In the virtual world, you take a snapshot of a point in time, patch it, see if it works, and get rid of the snapshot. In the virtual world, you can make templates and clones, and you can actually make a full copy of what s out there. You can have a generic application or process that can be deployed where it goes, it finds a place, copies itself, and the application or process is put in place. At ZCorum we do this all the time. When deploying new customers, we start up a simulated environment and set it up with all the right configurations. Then, we test it in the lab. When we deploy it to the customer site, we ve already been down that road and know what to expect. Updates are the same. We just update the template, and now we ve got the new version. Let s use this scenario for example. You re having a problem with a box, and you want to troubleshoot it. Before virtualization, you d have to take the box offline and work on it. That creates downtime. We 2

4 3 know what that means. Unhappy customers. With virtualization, now you can clone it and make an exact copy and give it to the developer or troubleshooter to figure out what s going on, without taking your original offline to troubleshoot. Once the clone is repaired you can deploy it, tell it to move all that stuff from the broken piece of storage to this repaired clone. Just move it over in real time while still serving customers. ZCorum: In real time? Peter: Yes. It copies the bulk of the data over, and gets really close to where there s only a small difference between the two, and it does a momentary freeze on the box where it says okay don t give it anymore processing, copy that last little bit, then tell everybody he s over there. As we go on and we do more virtualization, the problems become fewer and fewer. You ve freed up all this hardware and you can do whatever upgrades you want anytime. And, it doesn t affect anybody because you ve got redundancy, so you re outage windows will be less. There are many tools and tricks and more are being added. Virtualizing the network, virtualizing servers, multiple locations and less hardware are all possible. It also gives you a lot of flexibility. If I want to add another network card on there, I just go in and say add another card, and it shows up in the system, and I can tell it to put it on whatever network I want. ZCorum: Are operators going to get left behind if they re not able to be as flexible as their competitors? Peter: Things that would matter to operators are subscriber experience and costs. If an operator has all of this flexibility, fast response and works well and their competitor is always blipping, then their service is better. They ll have more good will with their customers. Every project comes down to time, money, and people. Being smarter with money and adding more flexibility and efficiency allows the operator to sell their product offerings at a better rate than their competitors. I don t know if it s left behind as much as it is improving your services for your customers. What does every operator want? They want happier customers and a bigger bottom line. Virtualization gives you the ability to enhance both. ZCorum: How many operators at this point do you think are not virtualized? Peter: You know, I don t know, but it s way more prevalent than it used to be. It s a growing trend. What s happening as people have servers that die out and they need to buy new servers, they re switching to virtualization instead of buying a ton of new servers. They re saving a lot of money that way. ZCorum: Is going from a network of individual servers to a virtualized environment a difficult process? Peter: It depends. Some things can be easier than others. It really depends on how old the operator s current hardware is. And there are some things you don t virtualize so you have to know what you re doing. It can be complex but it s well worth the ultimate cost savings. 3

5 4 ZCorum: So for operators, the benefit would be a big cost savings, but they may need to hire somebody to transition them over, correct? Peter: It depends on their skillset. It s a new technology. The thing with IT versus any other profession is if you haven t been involved with a certain technology regularly you might as well not do it at all. It just changes that drastically. ZCorum: What about RADIUS servers? Can you virtualize those? Peter: Yes we do it all the time. RADIUS is just an application that runs on a server. You just virtualize that server and add it to the virtual environment. ZCorum: Is there anything that a broadband provider cannot virtualize and has to stay in-house? Peter: Your physical plant, your gear the things that actually provide the highway. Virtualization is just moving applications and services that you provide ZCorum: What about here at ZCorum, is the company virtualized? Pete: Almost completely. We ve pulled tons and tons of old hardware out, now we have tons and tons of storage instead and I can run multiple types of different architectures in very little space. ZCorum: What about our operator affiliates, what do they have? Peter: In their server rooms most of them have a box. We re finding more and more of them are hosting through us though. Why would they do that? It s just one hop to our highly available data center with all this redundancy and security. It s usually less expensive for them and over time it gets more and more efficient for them. ZCorum: Is there any reason not to virtualize? Peter: Some operators might leap to the next level. If operators have the old model, like so many do, where everything gets its own box, they could skip virtualization and go straight to the cloud. A lot of people do that for some of their functions. It depends on how much risk you want to take on when doing these things. But a lot of people are not comfortable with the cloud yet. ZCorum: So why not just skip virtualization and go straight to cloud services? Peter: Well there are some concerns about cloud services, whether justified or not. A lot of the concerns are just not valid. One nightly news report about a service going offline and it causes fear. Legal concerns also come in to play. A lot of the big cloud services are required to give up your information if subpoenaed. And if a cloud service makes a flub and all your customer data and personal information was exposed to everybody; it causes a panic at the customer/user level. So people have concerns around security, control, and access to data. The solution to that is you can still use cloud services but you just keep the things that are vital and core to you in house. 4

6 5 ZCorum: Is virtualization giving way to cloud services in the future. Peter: It depends. It s maturing. It s a progression. I m sure there s some that hold onto the old model, but it s progressing so that the majority will be on the cloud model eventually. That s just the way things will go. You ve got to realize that the younger generation is growing up. As time goes by security will get better. It s already there for the most part. ZCorum: When you say the majority, how far down the road do you think that will be? I m thinking accountants, lawyers, and doctors, etc. Peter: They re already there. People do online banking every day. They upload and store their family photos in cloud programs, they store files on a Google drive. ZCorum: From the operator s perspective, what would be a better scenario for them: virtualize everything or put it all in the cloud? Peter: It depends. It comes down to what is the operator trying to achieve? It s like the green thing for IT departments. It was good in theory but from a business perspective it didn t mean anything until it could reduce power, space, and cooling. Then people started paying for it. So in the end the thing that made going green catch hold for IT was the dollars. The same goes for deciding on how to manage the future of your network. Do you want to continue to own all of that stuff? Is that the core of your business and where you re making money? If the core of your business is you want to own servers then more power to you, but if it s more customer facing, why bother with maintaining all of the technology? ZCorum: What questions should they ask themselves to make that decision? Peter: There s a moment where you decide that you have to look at your bottom line and understand that your current process is costing you a lot of money. You then ask the question, Can we virtualize or go cloud? You re trying to grow your business and grow your bottom line while making your customer happy. It all plays into that. The mix depends on what are the business reasons for doing it and whether it s going to achieve my business goals. Virtualization helps the operator s bottom line in cost and reliability, as it serves the business functions. In cloud services, what it comes down to is how paranoid are you about that? It s probably very general, but the basic things to consider are how much do you want to pay to get a certain level of reliability, flexibility etc. or how much risk are you willing to take? Some of those decisions are no brainers. Some are more difficult. You might want to mitigate risks or soft costs. So some would rather move over and get rid of soft risk costs and focus on their business. Does the CEO really want to know if your Exchange server s backup works and that it s on tape in the office server room? Probably not. The CEO wants to be assured that vital mail for the contract discussion going on is available. And if it s customer facing, that CEO wants to make sure there are no outages because outages makes the customers think the company can t run their mail. 5

7 6 The scenario plays out every day. Operators have mail but it s aging, and it needs to be updated to keep it current and sometimes just to keep it going. Then the operator comes to realize that he s stacked up this much money just to maintain. If you re going to be paying anyway it might make sense to move to virtualization or cloud services options because the beauty of it is they keep you current; you always have the latest. ZCorum: Are there limitations to what the operator can virtualize or move to the cloud? Peter: Other than the physical plant stuff I mentioned, not really. They can move all of it if they want to. What we try to do at ZCorum for our affiliates is become an aggregator for the supporting services like provisioning, DNS, mail, diagnostics, etc. That way they can leverage our experience and relationships and we can aggregate it across multiple subscribers. There s an overhead cost for the operator to do that themselves but we aggregate the cost across multiple affiliates. Over time you re going to see more of that, businesses moving away from maintaining everything in-house or even buying computer resources. It just makes sense. ZCorum: I d hate to be a server manufacturer. Peter: Same as I d hate to have been a blacksmith in Times change, technology evolves. We have to evolve with it or stagnate and get pushed out by competitors. 6

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