To Infiny and beyond
Epsilon is some way down its journey into SDN, but the future means more points of presence, more orchestration and more partnerships, CEO Jerzy Szlosarek tells James Pearce
he global software-defined networking (SDN) market is expected to grow to approximately $61 billion by 2023, at a compound annual growth rate of around 39% between 2017 and 2023, according to Markets and Markets’ global forecast. Some carriers are just starting down the software-defined path, but others have been walking it awhile. One company already on its way is Epsilon, according to co-founder Jerzy Szlosarek, CEO for the past three years.
"SDN – and we prefer the term network orchestration or network automation – is what is really driving innovation in our space," says Szlosarek as I talk to him on the phone to Singapore.
"In the last few years there has been a big growth in cloud connectivity. That’s been a way for network providers to interconnect to cloud providers using network orchestration and API technology to make a programmable interface. That way you can connect a network to a cloud provider and have a seamless experience from building a network and unlocking cloud for applications."
The benefits are simple and obvious, says Szlosarek. Typically, carriers would have established an NNI (network-to-network interface) and a series of commercial costs through partner relationship managers who manage traffic between those two networks. "Network A would buy network services on network B and an NNI determines that."
But this is all changing. Now, networks are interconnecting through APIs. Carriers are using software to link up. Network A can look at the service capability of network B, configure what is needed, and activate services automatically.
If that sounds easier, it’s because it is – but the carrier community isn’t quite there yet, and that brings some complexity with it. Szlosarek explains: "Today it is very complex because there hasn’t been enough work on standards, so everyone has created their own APIs and their own software interworking. This is very cumbersome."
That’s not to say all is lost with the future of SDN. He points to a number of inter-carrier trials – mentioning the likes of Colt and Verizon, which last year launched a joint SDN trial – and the work of MEF on standardisation. MEF is creating a set of APIs that means carriers will no longer have to customise or develop their own unique software code as part of the softwarisation process. This, part of MEF 3.0, was launched in October 2017, meaning "the industry isn’t quite there yet", according to Szlosarek.
Epsilon enacts SDN through its Infiny platform, an on-demand connectivity platform that provides enterprises and service providers with "a suite of high-performance connectivity and communi-cations services at the click of a button", according to the company. Infiny, launched in 2017 at Capacity Middle East, connects into more than 100 points of presence (PoPs) in 170 countries.
That wasn’t the start of Epsilon’s development of SDN, however. Szlosarek explains: "We started our journey around two or three years ago. The vision for the company was around where we saw the industry going." That meant "a major restructure" – including significant investment in areas not familiar with the traditional telecoms model. "We’ve had to invest in dev capabilities, putting in DevOps people, understanding APIs and how the cloud marketplace moves, understanding how the technology and emerging providers of the future are consuming networks – that’s been a major change."
In 2018, "we’re starting to see some real, live, commercial cases where customers are happy to interface through the portal, through the APIs, and through the automation". He warns: "It is a complex transition as carriers have legacies they want to protect. It is a mindset. We’re well down the path but we’ve still got a lot to achieve, and we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us."
That work involves Epsilon’s involvement with MEF, including helping out the standards body on its work to develop intercarrier APIs.
I was in Orlando when MEF launched its MEF 3.0 Transformational Global Services Framework, with the aim of defining, delivering and certifying agile, assured, and orchestrated communication services across a global ecosystem of automated networks. A major part of this was lifecycle services orchestration APIs for network provisioning, which sounds a lot like what Szlosarek has been saying.
"We attend the MEF meetings and we have been partaking in the MEF 3.0 meetings," he says. "The committee discussed the standards and MEF’s vision for its APIs. We are committing feedback to the MEF but we’re already down our journey. I’m quite comfortable doing customisation but the future for this industry is about standards. It’s an evolution for us but it is an exciting one."
The need to change how carrier networks interact has been driven by the same things that has driven the core changes in the wider telecoms industry over recent years: the way end users, be they consumers or enterprises, consume content, data and services.
"Fifteen years ago, many wouldn’t have imagined that the world would have moved to WhatsApp and Skype," Szlosarek explains. "Today we’re almost allergic to making calls that cost money.
"If we look at where we’re headed, it is all about advanced services: AI, automated vehicles, creating applications that enhance our lives. The more that happens, the more the network has to change to support this kind of model. Enterprises have moved their workload into the cloud, and telecoms operators are now actively moving connectivity and networks into the cloud, which adds a lot more complexity. The nature of the tech will change. It will be more virtualised and software-driven, and that means transactions on a technical level will also change."
He adds: "You’ll still need the face-to-face human element because dealing with commercial, complex and large inter-connect agreements will still be needed. The speeds and delivery of deployment, delivery of quality of service and experi-ence, and the amount of services that we’ll be managing in these new technical frameworks will be automated." For Epsilon, the future focus is very much on growing its presence, and that involves three key components. The first, says Szlosarek, is about orchestrating as much of its network as it possibly can, including linking up with cloud providers and other parts of the ecosystem, in order to boost the value of Infiny. "Today we’re in around 100 PoPs and we will be adding more, pushing connectivity closer to the edge." The initial focus is on North America, where Epsilon is "putting most of our investment".
In June, Epsilon and China’s DCConnect announced a two-way, intercarrier network service that will be provisioned across each other’s networks using an API-to-API interface between their separate SDN architectures. This means Epsilon can enable DCConnect’s customer base to interact with 600 Epsilon service provider partners worldwide. It also allows Epsilon’s partners to inter-connect in several major cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Epsilon also linked up with SoftBank’s internet exchange arm, BBIX, to offer on-demand connectivity in Japan.
"We’ve made IX an integral part of our proposition," he explains. "We talk about the cloud-centric network that is auto-mating and virtualising most of the network. What we’ve been doing and actively pursuing is working with multiple IXs worldwide and having them on board with Infiny." He explains that "BBIX have been in the market a number of years and have grown well", adding: "They’ve been offering solutions for mobile providers to partner with content providers."
In addition, "our Asia-Pac network has been growing. We’ve added more PoPs and more sites. We completed our Japan build so we now have infrastructure connecting Japan to the US, to Hong Kong, to Singapore. Part of that is to work with BBIX to have them in our Infiny platform."
Epsilon has been "opening up to new geographies and making it easier for companies who don’t have presence in established markets to connect to new locations", he says. "Many of our European or American partners may not be aware of BBIX and the internet exchanges in Asia."
So what comes next? He says there will be "six or seven" new points of presence this year, with Africa on the horizon. Expect to see "a physical presence" from Epsilon in Johannesburg soon, says Szlosarek.
He concludes: "Infiny partners drive traffic from local markets and that is a fundamental difference for Epsilon compared with other operators in the market. We’re very focused on unlocking the value of partnering."