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New Verizon data centers support businesses, jar suppliers

New Verizon data centers are part of a two-pronged strategy of helping customers and taming suppliers through open technology.

Verizon is shaking up suppliers while trying to please customers in a data center overhaul that will eventually move the company's entire network infrastructure from proprietary gear to open hardware and software.

Last week, the carrier said it had re-architected five data centers, building within them a network foundation comprised of Dell top-of-rack, leaf and spine switches powered by Big Switch Networks Inc.'s operating system.

Big Switch's software-defined networking controller provides the network intelligence by pushing policies and configurations to switches in the Verizon data centers. Red Hat OpenStack is the open source software that manages the network's large groups of virtualized application servers. Verizon is running those servers on Dell x86 computers.

Gone from Verizon's redesigned data centers are the proprietary hardware and software that ran the network services sold to enterprises. Those inflexible systems -- bought from big-name companies Cisco, Juniper Networks, Alcatel-Lucent and others -- no longer meet the demands of today's market, said Chris Emmons, director of network infrastructure planning at Verizon.

Verizon business customers want new services and changes to existing ones delivered in days, not weeks. Verizon and its largest rival, AT&T, which is going through a similar network transformation, can't meet that level of customer service without an infrastructure that engineers can control through programmable software.

The companies pressuring carriers to speed up service delivery are those moving workloads to public clouds and subscribing to online business applications, said Nav Chander, an analyst at IDC. "Service agility for an enterprise is not just something they desire. It's a real need."

Verizon data centers put suppliers on notice

Besides benefiting customers, the software-controlled Verizon data centers lower the company's cost. The carrier has chosen a network architecture based on open standards that let it swap out equipment and software for better-priced products as needed. Suppliers will have to support the same specifications if they want to do business with Verizon.

"One of the things that was important to us in this architecture is that we maintain separation of the various pieces so that we don't get locked into any vendor," Emmons said.

Dell, Big Switch and Red Hat are guaranteed to benefit only from the first batch of refurbished Verizon data centers, Emmons said. The carrier has not committed to using them in revamping the remaining seven facilities. 

Future contracts could just as easily go to other vendors, such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise or Huawei Technologies. Even startups have a shot, if they meet Verizon's requirements.

"We're keeping all those options open on our roadmap," Emmons said.

The sales opportunity for vendors is enormous. Verizon's network conversion involves more than its core data centers. Over the next several years, it will also redesign hundreds of smaller sites used to deliver services throughout the company's nationwide wireless and wired networks.

Vendors are aware of what Verizon and AT&T want in open technology. In a recent earnings call with financial analysts, Juniper CEO Rami Rahim acknowledged that carriers were no longer interested in the closed hardware that drove the networking market for decades.

"The most important thing for Juniper now is to make sure that we are working and engaging with telecom operators very effectively in ensuring that we remain relevant in the new architectures that they're deploying," Rahim said.

Remaining relevant will mean selling the open technology Verizon and AT&T will need to please customers whose networking needs are changing rapidly.

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