Head in the “cloud” feet on the ground

Recently reviewing a   a number of standards, products, technologies with purpose of extending   management systems into the cloud based on criteria of  minimal development, simplicity, reuse, automation, and scalability.

There are several  distinct business models in existence, namely the internet service provider view, otherwise known as Over-the-Top (OTT) by the  communication service provider community ie. Telecom operator or CSP, and the emerging service ecosystem based on medium to  large scale data center capability and associated services.

The IETF has provided the backbone of internet reference standards, and these have been applied with great ingenuity by the major internet service providers, while they have focused on scaling their ecosystems according to large scale and grid computing principles, merging into fully fledged SaaS and infrastructure “cloud” based utility services.

The communication service providers realizing that revenue is systematically being eroded by the so called OTT’s have taken steps to reduce costs  and monetize their infrastructure while entering into partnerships within an admittedly limited regulatory framework.Certainly, the current network operating model is more about cost control than it is about monetization.

Given the costs of rolling out 5G capability in optical fiber and supporting back end systems, it is difficult to see how operators would provide ROI  for these new infrastructure services over time, while essentially functioning as a utility for third parties, and cutting internal costs. The more they cut internally the less capable they become in terms of innovation and service delivery.

So they have taken steps to address this through partnering with innovative vendors in cloudification, emulating internet service providers, associating with open-source communities such as the Linux foundation, and partnering with an extended B2B and MVNO ecosystem.

However they face the major challenge of the network.

Network computing (I/O control &  management)  is one of the most difficult areas for the cloud, but is also one of the greatest opportunities for CSP’s and other potential entrants.  Internet providers do not “do” network although they are certainly positioning for this requirement.

To this end standards bodies such as the Telemanagement forum, the Broadband forum & ETSI have been working to develop network interoperability standards such that the rollout and operational  management of services can be simplified, automated and reused in diverse ways.

However, this work is thwarted by several realities summarized as follows:

  • Time – things are moving fast and playing catch up places a CSP into reactive mode while technology is evolving – this means that solutions developed today may be thrown away tomorrow as obsolete, this aspect places risk on vendor investment as well as on operator technology adoption
  • Existing operational infrastructure implies migration and dual operating modes, which are high risk exercises, impacting quality of service and organizational coherence
  • Regulatory constraints – Make investments uncertain, as it is unclear which services may be offered in the near future and thus which business  priorities need to be developed
  • Complexity of emerging standards – The implementation of 5G with a focus on NFV powered by SDN capability is work in progress, while standards do address only part of the solution ( The network ) leaving  management and control components open to implementation via a complex overlay of off the shelf open-source and development paradigms ( OPNFV, OpenStack, OpenDaylight, ONOS and others )
  • The generalization of the  management layer has been addressed to some extend by the emerging ECOMP and other relevant open source initiatives, and yet there is complexity in integrating this solution to the underlying alternatives for NFV and SDN, as well as to existing operational ecosystems

It is this opinion that progress can be made through iterative efforts in incrementally and iteratively applying sound software engineering principles to generic open  platforms, while focusing on point solutions to discrete business cases.

Leveraging  one or more of the existing and  emerging standards is a definite, at least as a reference point in design, and a utilization of components where these exist.

But ultimately it is a fact that solutions will develop in keeping with market forces, and capabilities, not by standards alone, technology is moving faster than adoption.

Therefore it is key to understand the key design and implementation aspects  which can be leveraged to drive change and readiness in CSP’s capability.

The following items are listed in no particular order, however early analysis and business case definition will to a large extent guide the process :

  • Understanding the size and scale of the business case
  • Modelling the components throughout the system stack
  • Identifying key security and operational constraints
  • Applying Virtualization and open cloud adoption, where feasible
  • Development of  selected “cloud” capabilities for storage and compute nodes – this is feasible given availability of  statistical multiplexing software, but scaling down is more challenging than scaling up
  • Development of a minimal container ecosystem on which VNF’s can run
  • Decomposition of the network control and data transfer functions ( See modelling exercise )
  • Limited application of one or more of the existing NFV environments, integrated with   a virtualized compute and storage stack implemented with some form of containerization
  • Integration and migration of existing infrastructure to a cloudified environment

The exercise is largely one of decomposition, standards based design, open product selection, and pilot development and testing – there is no silver bullet at this stage.

The question who is best positioned to  execute this work given that existing vendors are understandably unwilling to cannibalize their existing licensing model in favor of building open software based ecosystems, while most operators are not set  up for large scale software development. They used to be, but that was a long time ago.

Equally, there is an open field for  service provider entrants & MVNO’s positioned to offer selected services,  based on the virtual/cloud   paradigm, provided that they are ready and able to  invest in  the set-up of the required   ecosystems.

Partnering with an integrator and/or  system vendor who is willing, and able to design and implement for “brownfield”,  integrating existing critical  operations, is key to this process and represents opportunities  for both parties.

Establishing an internal minimal architecture function is a necessity, as is keeping track of internal  road map and prioritization functions, applying impact and risk analysis to the supply chain.

In particular there are certain key differentiators which can be realized as revenue  once high quality of service, virtualized ( not necessarily cloud based ) infrastructure is in place, these need to be qualified in terms of legal and regulatory constraints, privacy and security.

In the next  chapter on this subject, we will continue with feedback on these potential revenue streams,  & constraints thereof.