Cisco Unveils Network Virtualization Platform for Service Providers

The vendor's ESP is designed to make service provider networks more automated and flexible, and to drive new revenues.

Cisco Systems is introducing new virtualization capabilities aimed at helping service providers continue transforming their networks.

Cisco officials are rolling out the vendor's Evolved Services Platform (ESP) and two virtual service modules around video and mobility, all of which are designed to help service providers expand the use of virtualization in their networks. The new ESP, announced Feb. 18, is part of Cisco's larger Open Network Environment (ONE) strategy to make networks more programmable, flexible and automated.

"The Evolved Services Platform represents a fundamental shift in the way service provider networks will be built," Doug Webster, vice president of global marketing and corporate communications for Cisco, said in a post on the company blog. "It not only has the industry's broadest, most comprehensive range of virtualized functions, but it also orchestrates them to create, automate and provision services in real time, across compute, storage and network functions across the entire architecture."

The movement toward software-defined networking (SDN) and network-function virtualization (NFV) promised to redefine how networks are designed and operated, with the goals being to create networks that are much more programmable, automated, dynamic and flexible. SDN essentially calls for separating the network's control plane from the underlying physical switches and routers and putting it into software, while NFV decouples network functions like caching and firewalls from the hardware and runs them in software.

Industry analysts expect the SDN market to grow rapidly—Infonetics Research is forecasting the space to hit $3.1 billion by 2017—as adoption increases. A recent survey by QuinStreet Enterprise—which publishes eWEEK—found that interest in SDN among enterprises is high, though widespread deployment likely will take awhile.

Established networking and data center solutions players—as well as a raft of smaller companies and startups—are rapidly building out their SDN and NFV portfolios. Cisco's ONE initiative is a multipronged approach that officials have said is aimed at bringing programmability to all parts of the network, from the ASIC and operating systems to networking functions and services.

The company's new ESP virtualization and orchestration software will work with Cisco's Evolved Programmable Network (EPN), which was announced in September 2013. By using it, service providers will be able to more quickly create and offer new and differentiated services, which will help them generate revenues. The ESP also will help service providers drive down operational expenses by enabling them to better optimize their current infrastructures.

"The ESP ensures the right type of experience for subscribers regardless of how or where they connect to the network," Webster wrote. "In essence, the ESP does the equivalent for a service provider business as a retail storefront, factory, and tool kit would do for a manufacturer. It allows them to 'manufacture' network experiences quickly, efficiently, and in a customized manner."

The ESP does this by enabling service providers to create, automate and provision on-demand services in real time across all data center resources that offer the right experience for every user regardless of how they're connected to the network. It leverages open standards via OpenStack and OpenDaylight SDN protocols and operates between the Cisco EPN and application layer.

Along with the ESP, Cisco is rolling out the first two modules that can be deployed. The Videoscape Cloud DVR Solution is a cloud-based video recording offering that can capture and store video in the cloud rather than on an end user's device. Users can then access the video from any device. The Virtualized Mobile Internet offers virtualized mobile services, such as sponsored data, which the content provider will pay to have delivered to end users.

Service providers can buy these solutions from Cisco as individual virtual functions that can be run on their own networks, combined with orchestration capabilities, or in a hardware package. They also can be combined with orchestration and delivered through a third-party cloud in a pay-as-you-go model, according to Cisco officials.