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Colt Preps AI-Enabled Network Management

Ray Le Maistre
10/11/2017
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THE HAGUE -- SDN NFV World Congress -- With its initial NFV architecture in place and helping to deliver on-demand services to its enterprise customers, Colt is now looking to tidy up its virtualization deployment and seek ways to automate its network management during 2018, according to a senior executive from the operator.

Mirko Voltolini, VP of technology and architecture at Colt Technology Services Group Ltd (London: COLT), cited automation as one of the key areas of innovation at the operator, which offers services to enterprise users primarily in Europe and Asia. Colt has created a new "AI-driven networking" project called Sentio with the aim of developing fully automated service management capabilities -- traffic flow classification, fault prediction, WAN path optimization, capacity management, security, intelligent bandwidth-on-demand, and more -- and service modification and restoration through the automated scaling of virtual network functions (VNFs).

A key element in this process would be an analytics engine based on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities that would feed information into Colt's network controllers.

Voltolini told Light Reading that there are some suitable existing tools in the market that could help the operator get started on the road to automation and that he had already held conversations with a few companies. Colt has also issued a request for information (RFI), and Voltolini said that the initial responses would be examined in the coming weeks.

He noted that Colt has deliberately not been too prescriptive about what it is seeking in terms of machine learning capabilities so as not to limit the responses from the vendor community and that the focus of the RFI has been on what Colt is hoping to ultimately achieve.

Voltolini isn't talking about specifics currently, or which companies stand out from his early information gathering, but it was notable here that IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), in partnership with Accanto Systems , is pushing its network management automation capabilities strongly and it's hard to imagine that the software giant won't feature in Colt’s initial considerations.

So with Project Sentio underway, does Voltolini see any value in the creation of an European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) group focused on automation? Absolutely, particularly for identifying the potential use cases, he noted. (See Automation Gets Its Own ETSI Group.)

Virtualization consolidation
Another key initiative for Colt in 2018 is the unification of its systems underpinning its initial virtualization efforts.

The operator is well known for being one of the early movers in terms of deploying SDN and NFV capabilities but its early initiatives have left it with a number of similar systems. (See How Colt Capitalized on SDN & NFV.)

"We have some inefficiencies in our current NFV set-up," noted Voltolini, that has resulted in an inefficient use of compute and networking infrastructure, operational complexity and a lengthy and complex process to bring additional VNFs on board.

So the operator is using blueprints from the ETSI NFV Industry Specification Group (ISG) to shift to common orchestration, VNF manager and Virtual Infrastructure Manager (VIM) layers, a move that will deliver cost efficiencies and reduced overheads and development cycles, as well as speeding up VNF onboarding and enabling the development of a single service catalog. Colt also expects this move will help it to introduce the automation it plans to introduce with Project Sentio.

Voltolini also noted during his presentation that Colt is further developing the SDN federation capabilities it has worked on with AT&T, Orange Business Services and the MEF and that it is also working on additional new bilateral SDN interconnections with partner network operators that it plans to announce soon. (See AT&T, Colt, Orange Team with SDOs on Global API Standards and MEF Proclaims Progress on Key LSO Interfaces.)

Colt is also working on the development of an Optical SDN service that will enable on-demand optical services in the same way it currently offers on-demand IP and Ethernet services. "Disaster recovery has emerged as one of the key use cases for such a service," Voltolini noted.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Group Editor, Light Reading

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