Source: TM Forum

In August 2014, the Canadian government awarded CENGN (the Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks) funding to establish a multi-vendor ecosystem to accelerate commercialization of next-generation communications solutions. Founding members of the group include Alcatel-Lucent, AllstreamBTI SystemsCiscoEWA-CanadaEXFOInvest OttawaJDSUJuniperMistral VenturesRogers and TELUS. All except EWA-Canada, Invest Ottawa and Mistral Ventures are also TM Forum members.

Last month CENGN announced its first set of network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) commercialization projects focusing on automatic bandwidth provisioning, SDN-controlled energy management for data centers, service orchestration for cloud connectivity, smart steering for MPLS, and virtual evolved packet core (vEPC). TM Forum Editor Dawn Bushaus recently caught up with CENGN President and CEO Ritch Dusome to find out more.

DB: What was the impetus for CENGN?

RD: A bunch of us that traditionally competed with each other – from Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco and other companies – got together and decided we’d like to have an ecosystem that would make sense for all of us in Canada. We wanted to keep development in Canada – we had seen the bankruptcy of Nortel and Blackberry struggling, and we were trying to think of things we could do to help even though we were competitors.

One idea was to create CENGN. I helped write the proposal and defended it – it was a competition sponsored by the Canadian federal government – and in the end we got a commitment of about $15 million over a 7-year period.

DB: What are CENGN’s primary goals?

RD: We’re trying to create an environment that’s next-generation and bleeding edge that small and medium enterprises [SMEs] in Canada can use for testing before trying to sell a solution globally. We’re also working to educate and train students in key areas. The idea is for students come out of university and work as interns on software-defined networks, NFV or the Internet of Things, and then hopefully they will go to work for companies like Cisco.

DB: Training students seems really important. We are hearing from our members that it is difficult to find talent.

RD: Absolutely, this is not trivial stuff; it’s an order of magnitude more complex. Service providers need everyone to be an expert in networking, computer programming, scripting and so on. There are a lot of things going at the same time and they just don’t teach it in high-schools and universities; it’s usually knowledge acquired over time.

DB: What are the benefits of participating in CENGN?

We’ve created an OpenStack environment and we’re augmenting it with our members’ equipment, software, hardware and people to create something that is better than doing it individually. It’s multi-vendor, open, leading edge and expensive, so SMEs today can’t afford that or don’t want to afford it if they’re just starting out.

For our members and the SMEs, success could be that an SME’s solution isn’t the right fit. It’s OK to fail and fail quickly. There’s still value in that; you don’t want to waste time if there’s nothing there. But obviously we are expecting success from the projects we have chosen because we put quite a bit of time into researching them.

DB: How does the selection of commercialization projects work?

RD: We have members that pay to participate and they get to select one project or SME to work with. We decided the key areas we would focus on by taking requirements from our members and then we went across Canada to meet with 350 to 400 small companies. Fifty completed a full-on submission and we boiled that down to a top 12. Then we had a ‘dragon’s den’ type environment where they came and pitched to our members and the members selected the five commercialization projects. All of them are in the area of NFV and SDN.

DB: Who’s participating in the initial group of projects and which network virtualization issues are they trying to address?

RD: CENX is a company you’re probably familiar with. [CENX recently joined TM Forum as a member.] They’re a startup and they were one of the small companies that Telus, the number-two service provider in Canada, chose to work with. The area of focus for them is orchestration of the NFV and SDN core. We suspect it will become a very significant project for Telus.

CENGN chose a company called Expeto, based in Vancouver. They make a virtual EPC mobile packet core that can run on bare metal in 30 minutes and will be capable of keeping millions of mobile subscribers going. We thought it was very innovative and wanted to work with them. It’s something we will demonstrate in Germany at SDN World Congress. [For more about Expeto, see this Perspectives article.]

Juniper is working with IG2 doing instrumentation at the data center level using SDN to automate energy management. It becomes dynamic, so that’s really interesting.

DB: The work CENGN is doing is comparable in some ways to work that’s going on in other collaboration organizations like the Forum, Open Platform for NFV and the Open Networking Foundation. How are you working with these groups and how are you different from them?

RD: We’re participating and are members of some of them. I’m following OPNFV because I really like what they’re doing – it’s a group of companies trying to make this environment stable. I believe we have about 18 to 24 months to get this stuff stable; if we don’t the market is going to move on.

Our focus is that we have an infrastructure that’s a production environment and that we’re a user, whereas most of the folks that are a part of the organizations you mentioned are trying to create it. In the example of CENX and Telus, they will operate as a tenant on our infrastructure and will run concurrently in the same environment with the other projects. Our members are some of the largest companies in the world and they’re members of all the collaboration groups. Our angle again goes back to Canadian SMEs and universities but we do realize it’s a global market.

DB: Are there any plans to expand beyond Canada?

RD: I don’t see us having staff outside of Canada but I learned very quickly in this business that you never say never. Right now our major funder is the Canadian government. But we are connected to the CANARIE infrastructure [Canada’s national research network] and through Internet 2 to global networks.

DB: I certainly see synergy between our groups. It’s quite possible there could be a joint Catalyst project in the making with the Forum, CENGN and OPNFV all participating.

RD: That would be an awesome Catalyst. I’d be all for that.