For this post, I spoke with Lee Jorissen, MSx architecture manager, at TPx Communications about moving into NFV with uCPE, enabling service on demand and getting people up to speed with new cloud skills.
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Prayson: Can you start off by telling us a little bit about your background and how you came to work at TPx?
Lee: I've been working in the networking fields in one way or another for about 25 years now – working in every realm from structured cabling to support to architecture. That landed me at TPx doing the architecture and redesign of their SONET to Carrier Ethernet solutions. Slowly I'm morphing into handling the architecture and development of our next-generation service products.
Prayson: Like you, TPx has been through a lot of changes. You mentioned moving from SONET to Carrier Ethernet, and now you're moving into the virtualized space. Tell me a little about what's driving some of those changes and what's driving changes to the TPx business?
Lee: I would say TPx is in a transformative phase where we're moving away from the traditional competitive local exchange provider (CLEC) environment and becoming more of a true managed service provider – where we look at our CLEC business as continuity for services that we would provide over our managed services environment.
Prayson: Lee, what do you mean by continuity?
Lee: I am talking about the fact that TPx is about more than physical connectivity. We provide continuity of services over any access.
Prayson: OK. With that change from CLEC to managed service provider, will TPx be able to offer the same services over third-party wholesale infrastructure as they do over their own infrastructure
Lee: Yes. Ultimately, our plan is that the continuity our managed services run across can be our services, which would be our primary choice. But, if it’s not practical to use our own continuity services for whatever reason, then we’re more than happy to go over a third-party service to provide our managed services over the top.
Prayson: What are the key services today?
Lee: Today we deploy security services, SD-WAN services, voice services, unified communication services, as well as the traditional CLEC services, dial tone, and PBX services. We're really a full, all-round provider of any type of network requirement that a customer might need to have.
Prayson: You mentioned moving into NFV with your universal CPE or uCPE platform, and that some of those same services such as security and SD-WAN would be offered on that. Do you anticipate that all of your current services will be offered, or do you see some going away? And are there any new services that are coming in with the new platform?
Lee: Mostly we look at the universal CPE environment as really just a new delivery platform for these services that we're already deploying. Our first phases of this will be to move those services that we’re deploying off traditional appliances and into our virtualized universal compute environment. As time goes by, we’ll most definitely introduce new products, and new technologies, all leveraging the universal compute environment that we're working to deploy.
Prayson: We've seen some interest among users that are today working with hybrid cloud and multi-cloud in being able to run virtual machines on platforms like universal CPE. Is that an application that you think TPx and your customers are interested in?
Lee: We do. We do have a cloud offering today in TPx, and we’ll look to deploy these types of universal services in what I would consider a hybrid fashion, whether they be at a customer's location, in a TPx data center, or in some third-party cloud.
Prayson: There's been a lot of talk in the press about some of the challenges of universal CPE and NFV in general. Before we get to that, I'd like to talk about the other side, and that is: What do you see as the benefits to you as the operator of universal CPE, and what are the benefits that you can bring to your customer with virtualized services?
Lee: We see the true benefit is that it gives our customers flexibility in the service offerings that they want to buy from us. Now we're not stuck with a piece of hardware for service. We can put a foundation component, like with universal compute, at a customer's premises, and essentially provide them full lifecycle service offerings. It might be a single service to start out with, and then multiple services as the relationship grows, or providing more advanced services in an on-demand or other much-more efficient delivery mechanism.
Prayson: I think that on-demand aspect is really important. One of the things that I think is going to be very beneficial is giving your customers something they didn't have before – the ability to get services on demand. That has real value.
Lee: I believe so as well, Prayson.
Prayson: Now, the other side, the challenges. One thing that I think you should be very proud of at TPx is being able to move forward with a virtualized deployment while some of the larger operators are still struggling with it. What were some of the key challenges for you, and how did you overcome those?
Lee: I think my biggest challenge was the transition from being a traditional networking guy who understands appliances and protocols and user interfaces, to moving more to a software-defined environment, where you're really abstracting out all of these different components. That was probably my biggest challenge, it’s also an ongoing challenge as all of these technologies are continuing to morph and evolve into whatever they will ultimately look like.
Prayson: You mentioned for yourself personally, but what I'm hearing from other people in the industry is that it's a very broad issue, that whereas the people who are on the forefront of this are making that change, and learning the new skills, there's still a lot of people in organizations that have not adopted these cloud skills or these software skills, and are reluctant to do so. Are you seeing that challenge? How are you helping people make that transition?
Lee: We do see that challenge, and some of it we're looking at in a multi-faceted type of approach, where we're using both the external resources, vendor resources and VAR resources to bring our teams more up to speed. But we're also working to develop internal programs within TPx so that we can go into the different groups that ultimately touch these new technologies, so that we can start internally bringing them up to speed, because it's a very big change in the way that this type of technology is going to affect all of those different business groups.
Prayson: Are you able to convince people or show them the value of broadening their skill sets? It's always painful, especially for people that have been in the business as long as we have, to learn new things, but by the same token, it's very valuable for them in terms of their personal résumé. Are they seeing that, or has it taken some bonking on the head to get them to move forward?
Lee: I would say it’s a combination. We have quite a good set of intellectual property inside TPx, and most of the folks do see the benefit of it. Again, we are, or rather we were, a CLEC, and we still have hurdles around getting people out of what their day-to-day job was or used to be, into what it's going to be.
Prayson: Let's go back to talking about services. You’re helping transform TPx and the services that are being offered, both in terms of the way they're being delivered as well as the services themselves. A couple things that are really interesting to me are 5G and IoT. I think that 5G's getting a lot of interest but is going to be a real challenge in terms of creating enough capacity and deploying small cells to support it. Likewise, IoT has some very interesting services that could be offered, but I think it could be difficult for people to make money off it because of the low rates that you can charge for these services. What are you thinking about those, and do you see them as part of your portfolio moving forward?
Lee: We certainly see 5G as part of our portfolio going forward. As for IoT, I kind of use that term a little ambiguously myself. I even look at our universal compute as IoT, because in reality it's just an enabler to allow technology to get back to somewhere else. We see both of those becoming very valuable components of TPx's business offerings.
Prayson: To your point on IoT, we're seeing some interesting applications for running IoT gateways on universal CPE acting as that collector of information and taking advantage of that generic compute infrastructure deployed out in the network and at the customer site. That's an interesting example of the opportunities that are opened up once you deploy generic compute throughout the network.
Lee: We see it the same way, Prayson. Once we can enable what I call our foundation components, it allows us to then choose how much or how little we want to enact different types of services or technologies, whether they be IoT or other.
Prayson: I once heard somebody say that the most interesting or important app on your smartphone is the one you haven't thought of yet. The point was that once you have an open platform that facilitates development, then it makes it very easy to roll out services and applications that you haven't even thought of. I think that's a great platform for moving forward.
Lee: I look at it the same way.
Prayson: Last question. Do you have any industry predictions for this year, either in the telco space or the broader IT cloud and security domains?
Lee: Well, one of the big things I see coming is much more adoption of 4G or LTE and 5G services as primary continuity mechanisms. Then, further migrations into an SDN or V-type world, but again, that's going to be a long-term project.
Prayson: With respect to the first point about wireless being a primary means of connectivity, you're talking about it in place of a wireline connection, correct?
Lee: In some cases, most definitely. In others, I see it as an initial enabler for bringing services up in preparation for landline services, because those are usually the long-term. They take a long time to get installed sometimes and we really want to be able to get services to our customers when they want it, and this would allow us to enable that.
Prayson: I see what you're saying, that you could turn customers up, essentially overnight, by not having to wait on a wireline connection.
Prayson: And in respect to 5G, do you see it as really expanding the use of wireless as a primary means of connectivity, or do you think it's going to be more in terms of mobility, like 4G is today?
Lee: I think it will most definitely allow wireless as a primary continuity mechanism, because the bandwidth will start coming up. But the big hurdle will be availability of both the networks and the markets as well as the radios that may be put into whatever end devices are going to be out in the world.
Prayson: I think that expansion of wireless to complement wireline connectivity is really exciting. Lee, I appreciate your time very much today. I look forward to talking to you again.
Lee: You're very welcome, Prayson. Thank you very much.