Friday, June 16, 2017

Profile of Orange, a global operation with big ambitions – Part 4


Orange SA is perhaps the global carrier with operations in the most diverse geographies and cultures. From its headquarters in Paris, Orange (formerly France Telecom) now serves 265.162,000 subscribers worldwide with mobile, broadband, fixed telephony, TV and a range of advanced enterprise services. In part 1 of this article, we looked at the company’s recent performance indicators. Part 2 discussed two growth segments for Orange: Africa and mobile money; Part 3 discussed the spirit of innovation inside Orange and its growth in Spain. Part 4 will examine forward-looking aspects of the carrier’s network architecture, especially SDN and NFV, which will be critical to building a fully-integrated, global super-carrier infrastructure. These platforms are being deployed by Orange Business Services (OBS) now, putting the carrier ahead of many industry peers.

An early mover with network virtualisation

Orange Business Services (OBS) delivers the company's enterprise portfolio over networks deployed by the group (fibre, 4G, WiFi, software defined networking). It is a truly global operation with 21,000 employees in 220 countries and territories. Orange's international IP transit network, which it calls the Open Transit Internet (OTI) network, has 24 major PoPs (12 in Europe, two in Asia, eight in North America, one in Africa and one in the Middle East); interconnects between these major PoPs run at up to 100 Gbit/s. By mid-2016, Oranges says peak traffic loads reached 4.2 Tbit/s across its OTI.

In the red-hot sector of SDN, NFV and SD-WAN, Orange has indicated on various occasions that it has been developing its own technology. Orange is a leading player in industry standards organisations and several vendor partnerships have been announced. When it comes to building the next layer of network virtualisation, the carrier has played a key role. Orange was a founding member of the network functions virtualisation (NFV) initiative that became an Industry Specification Group (ISG) within the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) in 2013. A key research partnership was formed with France’s the National Institute of research in Computing and Automation (INRIA) in 2015, leading to the creation of <I/O Lab>, a joint research laboratory for virtualisation, network convergence and cloud computing.

In March 2015, Orange Business Services launched an early pilot deployment of virtualised network functions for small and medium enterprises (SMBs). The pilot enabled SMBs (with up to ten sites) to test an SDN-enabled system that lets users manage their Intranet and Internet service in real-time. Users could order and customize new virtualised application services of their choice: Internet content filtering, advanced security and anti-virus. Orange used its own SDN controller to managed the virtualised services.

In mid-2016, Orange and AT&T agreed to collaborate on SDN and NFV. Later, it emerged that Orange would become the first carrier to test AT&T’s Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy (ECOMP) platform. AT&T’s ECOMP has since been merged into the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) project under The Linux Foundation of which Orange is a platinum member.

Orange has also been working with MEF and TM Forum to release the first set of standard application programming interfaces (APIs) for orchestrated Carrier Ethernet services later this year. This initiative uses MEF's LSO (Lifecycle Service Orchestration) framework and TM Forum's Open API framework to enable SDN architectures from different network service providers to interoperate with each other. There are plans to standardize 8 API definitions. This builds on the industry-agreed Open APIs developed by TM Forum members. Various other carriers are also part of this initiative, including AT&T Colt Technology Services, Comcast, Level 3, PCCW Global, TI Sparkle and Verizon.

In November 2016, Orange Business Services officially launched its Easy Go Network, which provides fully-virtualised network functions (VNF) using SDN, in 75 countries by the end of 2016. The Easy Go Network service, which underwent a year-long trial with customers, allows enterprises to instantly provision VNFs for branch offices with full digital self-service ordering, customer care and reporting functions. The service includes a plug-and-play router on site, eliminating truck rolls for more flexibility and rapid deployment. Orange says the key benefits of its Easy Go Network is that the service is on-demand and fully flexible with no upfront investment and no minimum revenue commitment. Billing is offered under a month to-month contract.

In March 2017, Orange Business announced plans integrate Riverbed SteelConnect technology into its hybrid network portfolio. The two companies are working together to develop a virtual network function (VNF) that customers will be able to deploy on universal customer premise equipment (uCPE) at their site. Full compatibility will be maintained with existing services as enterprises transition applications to the cloud. Riverbed said its SD-WAN offering, SteelConnect, provides an intelligent and simplified approach to designing, deploying and managing hybrid networks. Application performance is improved by real-time routing using the optimum links available between different networks. SteelConnect also enables zero-touch provisioning, allowing enterprises to set-up global networks quickly with easy management, providing a cost effective and superior end user experience. The first Orange pilot customers will be connected during the second quarter 2017 using managed SteelConnect appliances. The VNF of the service is scheduled to be available at the end of 2017. This will provide full virtualisation and orchestration managed through an easy-to-use ‘self-care’ portal to administer and prioritise applications.

Easy Go brings integration opportunities

For many years, Orange Business Services has been delivering MPLS WAN services for multinational with operations throughout the globe. Often, these have been complex WAN solutions that integrate all an organisation's voice, video conferencing and data communications with QoS provided for mission-critical applications.  For instance, OBS manages a private cloud on behalf of the European Space Agency, linking eight sites across the continent over a converged IP/MPLS infrastructure.  Another such high-profile project is the private IP/MPLS network that OBS manages on behalf of the European Commission, linking more than 250 sites across all EU member nations.

With SD-WAN, OBS now has the possibility of integrating access from other carriers. In May, OBS signed a four-year contract with Heraeus, a leading technology group headquartered in Hanau, Germany to centralize all services on a homogenous and stable network linking Heraeus' 110 locations around the world. Under the contract, Heraeus will unify all services currently provided by almost 100 different providers under Orange Business Services. While the announcement did not specify which WAN technologies would be put to use, it is likely that the new SD-WAN implementation will be employed in locations where an IP/MPLS node is not viable either from a local access perspective or simply for economics.

Orange remains a Layer 1 network operator with significant terrestrial fibre, subsea resources

It should be noted that while many carriers may offer virtualised network services such as Easy Go, Orange continues to operate a very significant fibre network both in Europe and internationally (18,000 km), not to mention one of the largest IP/MPLS backbones and conventional VPN services for multinational organisations.

Since the earliest days to telecom, the group has been involved in long-haul cables. Currently, Orange is involved in over 40 undersea fibre cables and consortia projects representing some 450,000 km of fibre cables. One such project is the recently commissioned SE-ME-WE5 cable linking Marseille to Singapore. Orange was one of the lead consortium members.