There are many conversations to be had about network virtualization in general, and SDN in particular. One conversation we don’t always hear about is the human factor – which is to say resistance from telecoms department heads who see SDN as a challenge to their livelihoods, either through consolidating networking departments or automating resources to the point of making employees redundant.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Adam Saenger, Vice President of Product Development & Management, Level 3 Communications.
TW Telecom – which Level 3 bought in 2014 – began implementing SDN internally in 2011 initially for its operational efficiency gains. SDN-enabled commercial services such as enhanced management and dynamic capacity followed in 2012.
Level 3 hasn’t yet finished integrating all of those capabilities into its existing network, but overall its SDN implementation is working “extremely well”, says Saenger.
“Thus far today we are controlling over 70,000 network elements on our network through this construct,” he says.
The biggest challenge of deploying SDN, Saenger adds, wasn’t technology but humans.
“The hardest part of SDN overall was the people effect, in having the organization understand that automation does not automatically mean cost-efficiency from a headcount standpoint,” he says. “What it does mean is a change in jobs, a change in function.”
For example, he explains, “We have automated over 10,000 workflow tasks per month. That has enabled us to take those resources that were previously task-oriented and repurpose them into fallout managers. If there is fallout for any of those implementations they then can respond to that. As well, these folks are re-employed in a more consultative manner which allows you to generate and create a much more consultative relationship with your end users.”
Saenger sees this as a positive thing, because it ultimately means evolving alongside your own customers – which is essentially the same as keeping up with them.
“Enterprises are evolving – they are changing the way they operate and the way they interface with their IT resources. The service provider has to evolve with them,” Saenger says. “If you're on disparate paths, it's not going to work – you have to be arm in arm. That’s been one of the critical success factors for us over the last five years – that we've done this arm-in-arm with our customers.”