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Cloudifying the Communications Network

Prayson Pate

Operators want to take advantage of cloudification, but the communications network is not the data center. So, how can operators bridge the gap between the network and the cloud? How can they make a transition from current operational methods and realize the benefits of cloud technologies? Let's take a look at the concept of cloudification and how it applies to the communications network.

What do we mean by cloudification?
People often misinterpret cloudification to simply mean virtualization, but it's actually much broader than that. Here's what's included in cloudification:

  • Disaggregation -- Network appliances (such as routers and firewalls) are broken into separate hardware and software components that then may be acquired from separate suppliers or open source projects.
  • White box -- Open-third party servers and switches are used to provide a low-cost and programmable infrastructure.
  • Components and APIs -- Rapid construction of services is enabled by assembling software components using open APIs.
  • New development methods -- Agile development and DevOps increase velocity.
  • New commercial models -- Embracing new ways of working with customers and suppliers including pay-as-you-go and shared success.

Mapping from the cloud to the communications network
Cloudification stems from data centers and cloud-centric companies. The data center has a number of characteristics that make it suitable for the principles that contributed to the growth of the cloud:

  • Homogeneous -- All servers and storage arrays are very similar, with few differences to account for.
  • Green field -- Deployed equipment is all relatively new and feature-rich.
  • Geographically colocated -- Colocation makes VM mobility and system reliability a reality.
  • Cheap bandwidth -- Distributing compute and storage resources in a data center is easy when high bandwidth and low latency are the rule.
  • Low latency -- The adjacency of equipment keeps communications latencies very low.
  • Unreliable elements -- Cloud resiliency is built into the system and software, not the physical elements themselves.

However, the communications network is not the data center. Its characteristics include:

  • Heterogeneous -- A wide array of equipment with different capabilities is deployed.
  • Legacy -- Equipment may have been deployed 20 or more years ago. Capabilities for new features are limited.
  • Geographically dispersed -- No assumption of adjacency can help with the optimal pooling of resources.
  • Expensive bandwidth -- VM mobility over a 1Mbit/s access link is not practical.
  • High latency -- Network elements may be dispersed globally.
  • Lack of trust -- Public networks are frequently considered to be untrusted domains.
  • Long service lifetimes -- Connectivity services are provisioned for weeks, months or even years.
  • Reliable elements -- Each network element is individually reliable, sometimes with redundant components.

In order to embrace cloudification, operators must acknowledge and address the differences between the data center and the communications network, listed above and summarized below.

Realizing the benefits of cloudification
As you begin the process of cloudifying your communications network, here's a list of key considerations the leading operators have discovered as they have sought to realize the benefits of the cloud:

  • Look for partners with a history of providing software-based solutions to operators.
  • Build on a base of foundational cloud technologies, such as Linux, KVM and OpenStack.
  • Work with companies with a large ecosystem of partners to deliver maximum flexibility.
  • Address deployment and scalability problems with software features like software-based Carrier Ethernet, zero-touch provisioning capabilities and embedded cloud functionality.
  • Make the business case work for edge deployments by optimizing the performance of low-cost standard servers.
  • Create a unified architecture composed of software elements that can be disaggregated to work in a variety of environments.
  • Implement additional security controls for connecting customers with a data center in a protected and reliable way.
  • Instantiate workloads on demand in real time with an automatically provisioned connectivity network preferably through open interfaces and SDN control.

It's time to leverage NFV and embrace the principles of the cloud in your network. And you don't have to do it alone. There are partners available with the experience, products and services to make NFV easy and cloudification real.

— Prayson Pate, Chief Technology Officer, Ensemble, ADVA Optical Networking (Frankfurt: ADV)

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User Rank: Blogger
2/20/2017 | 7:51:00 AM
Re: Transport Cloud and Network Centers

Thanks for the comment.

You made some interesting observations about how Transport Cloud / T-Cloud can help simplify network connections through segmentation and abstraction. These are powerful concepts that enable innovation while hiding nnecessary detail.

User Rank: Blogger
2/20/2017 | 7:47:26 AM
Re: It's all about Ops

Thanks for the observation.

I agree that the operations model, its staff and its tools will need to be updated to utilize a cloudified model.

While this is a big change, I am already seeing operators start to move down this path. Changes include getting operations involved early in the technology process, and the flattening of silos to work in a DevOps model.

User Rank: Light Beer
2/17/2017 | 4:46:54 PM
Transport Cloud and Network Centers
Cloudification of the communication services in the optical transport network is a study item for some time and might be realised by means of a Transport Cloud. A T-Cloud allocates a network slice to each user, which consists of a set of slice switch resources that are interconnected by FlexTunnels (FlexT). Slice switch resources are user programmable. FlexT payload structures are also user programmable. FlexTs are supported by OTN ODUflex connections, which can have any bit rate. Central offices that provide such slice switch resources within OTN nodes or connected to such nodes can be viewed as Network Centres within the T-Cloud. Users can program their slice switches with L1, L2, L3, etc based forwarding capabilities and can configure VPNs within each network slice in which user defined flows can be forwarded. The slice switch resources are the equivalent of the server blades in data centres, the optical transport network is the equivalent of the Ethernet data centre network, but provides a world wide connectivity between slice switch resources. Slice switch resources can be associated with 2nd, 3rd and future generation OTN access, metro, core and backbone nodes. Multi-operator/multi-vendor interworking is implicitly supported. T-Cloud goes beyond today's NFV, because network operators as well as other, 3rd party users can program and operate/control the slice switch resources and FlexT payload structures. Slice switch resources are considered to be FPGA or NPU based. With this approach, cloudification of communication services in transport networks will be an evolution, not a revolution. Management and control for network operators will be simplified; network is only responsible for the network slice. The user's management/control will be responsible for the management/control of the specific services within each network slice.
User Rank: Light Beer
2/16/2017 | 8:56:08 PM
It's all about Ops
This is all well and good but the real issue lurking beneath all the shinny new technology is Operations. While the impact to twent year old equipment and architecture is not trivial, the impact to 40 year old operational model will be life threatening if it's not addressed up front. Some operators don't have enoughfinancial runway to withstand an extended learning curve as they figure out how to squeez maximum cost and efficency out of thier new cloud.
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