Light Reading

Deutsche Telekom: A Software-Defined Operator

Ray Le Maistre

BAD HOMBURG, Germany -- SDN & OpenFlow World Congress -- Deutsche Telekom has started its migration towards becoming a "software-defined operator," a senior executive told attendees here Wednesday morning, noting that all major operators need to follow suit if they're to survive in the long term.

And he not only shared DT's vision of a simplified network but told delegates how the German giant is planning to address the shift to a next-generation OSS, a (if not the) key challenge facing operators planning their SDN/NFV strategies.

"Current networks are not ready for the traffic growth that's coming and competition is getting even tougher… ARPU [average revenue per user] levels are not going to be going up. We have a lot of complexity and it's hard to be fast. We have to invest in our networks" and become more software-oriented, said Axel Clauberg, VP of aggregation, transport, IP, and fixed access networks at Deutsche Telekom AG, "otherwise we will not survive."

Operators such as DT need to move to "dramatically simplified networks" to be able to match the Internet services giants. "The OTT players can move very fast because they are software-oriented," he noted. "We need drastically simplified IP networks, IP/optical integration and an infrastructure cloud model [carrier datacenters]" that hosts all manner of functions, applications and content, noted Clauberg.

That's essentially the TeraStream model first outlined by Clauberg more than a year ago: a simplified IP backbone infrastructure supported by software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) capabilities. DT's vision of virtualized appliances "triggered the formation of the NFV group at ETSI… we needed other operators to move in the same direction," he noted. (See Carriers Peer Into Virtual World and DT Unveils New Network Vision.)

And now there's a much greater emphasis on how DT's OSS needs to evolve to manage and help orchestrate that network. "We have a very fat OSS and a lot of legacy systems" that are very hard to switch off, he noted. But by the end of this decade DT aims to have a network that supports native IPv6 in its IP transport core, has simplified tunneling protocols and a transport protocol (almost certainly Ethernet, which by that time should be achieving 1 Tbit/s), and a "unique OSS approach."

That approach is based on the Yang language, which has been adopted and utilized by one of DT's key vendor partners, Tail-f Systems . (See Deutsche Telekom Selects Tail-F.)

That fits in with the more open technology approach that will underpin and run TeraStream. DT's fundamental decision at the start of this process was that it needed to break away from the proprietary world that telcos have worked in for so long and "build new networks on open standards technology, not proprietary software, so we are using KVM for our hypervisor and are developing orchestration capabilities around OpenStack, which isn't perfect yet of course."

For Clauberg, the ultimate goal is that the next-generation network will become less of a burden and free up DT to "focus on services, to be programming services, instead of re-architecting the network and the OSS."

And DT isn't just talking the talk: It has been testing out its TeraStream model at Hrvatski Telekom, its regional operator in Croatia. But while it's possible to start building a new age network with multi-vendor packet/optical capabilities -- Clauberg said Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco Systems Inc. have been proving themselves in Croatia -- there's only so far DT can try out its vision currently, as "there is no carrier-grade SDN today… but we're working on it," noted the DT man. (See DT's All-Cisco, No-Optical Network and DT's Croatia Unit Taps Cisco.)

And it's a big challenge for all involved. Clauberg noted that DT needs to build a team that comprises IP, datacenter, programming, and operations specialists that can work in small, empowered, and agile teams, while both the carriers and vendors need to adjust for the migration from hardware-based to software-based business models. In addition, the vendors need to be able to deliver in terms of scalability, flexibility, automation, energy efficiency, cost optimization, and, critically, security. "We need carrier-grade security mapped to a modern virtualized environment and on that there are no compromises," noted the DT man.

It's an approach that's inspiring others, notes Heavy Reading chief analyst Graham Finnie. "DT is determined to take a leadership position and it's showing what can be done and what still needs to be developed. Clauberg's presentation was very positive about the potential of SDN and NFV but it was also a reminder that there is no alternative for the operators."

It also set the bar for how vendors, particularly in the OSS community, need to respond. "This is a major challenge for the existing OSS players -- they need to deliver real-time streamlined OSS tools," adds Finnie. (See ESDN: OSS Implosion and SDN & NFV to Shake Up Operator OSS Market, Heavy Reading Finds.)

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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C Chappell
C Chappell,
User Rank: Blogger
10/25/2013 | 8:56:17 AM
Re: I wonder what Mrs Merkel thinks
Is the fixed network secure? Belgacom, anyone? John Naughton's article in the Observer last weekend talked about software that can be burned into hardware, providing remote access that can't be closed even if you switch off the hard drive or reinstall the operating system. Some argue that layers of virtualization and abstraction can actually make it harder for hackers. But I agree, Patrick - security in the SDN/NFV environment is a big topic which needs more focus. 

User Rank: Light Sabre
10/25/2013 | 6:02:51 AM
I wonder what Mrs Merkel thinks
I wonder what Mrs Merkel thinks of Deutsche Telekom's network and its network security being "virtualized". I suspect she would favor trials being carried out on the fixed network first.
User Rank: Light Beer
10/21/2013 | 5:45:45 AM
DT and SDN
It will be hard for the incumbent vendors like Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco to make the move towards open source network operating systems. A single layer service/transport (simplified view!) environment controlled by SDN plus NFV will definitely have less added value for them and for integration they will face competition from smaller companies with only small overhead. With the help of appropriate northbound interfaces SDN/NFV will enable DT and other carriers to create new services on the fly and at the same time be ready for application triggered configuration/commissioning. With open source NOS capable of horizontal communication the carriers might also be ready for multi domain network virtualization.


User Rank: Lightning
10/18/2013 | 12:33:37 PM
Re: DT is showing the way
I would add that if the large operators are going to ask their suppliers to make radical changes, the operators will also need to follow through on the promise and deploy what has been asked for. This is not a comment on DT in any way - just a general comment on big telcos based on their history. I think that many suppliers have been burned by taking big telco commentary at face value and then not seeing the visions carried out in the end.

This time could very well be different - comments from DT and other major operators point to urgency and are pretty consistent. Still, I'm sure many incubment suppliers must have some doubts in the back of their minds making them hesitant to radically adjust their products, etc.

C Chappell
C Chappell,
User Rank: Blogger
10/17/2013 | 7:50:04 AM
Re: DT is showing the way
Actually, that's not really fair to DT which was one of the first operators to put innovation and transformation on the agenda - albeit with not as much fanfare as others. But part of the appearance of antediluvianism (if that's a word!) is that many European operators are hamstrung by regulation and job protection issues which are preventing them from changing too far too fast. US companies can sling thousands of redundant staff out at a moment's notice - European companies can't. Amazon and Google, with their tax avoidance policies, cavalier attitude to personal data and no accountability to national governments will dance lightly on the graves of telcos.... 
User Rank: Blogger
10/16/2013 | 5:24:09 PM
Re: DT is showing the way
Very interesting to hear this from a company some of us would still lump in with the crowd of slow-moving telco dinosaurs. Still, there is much work left to do to fulfill this vision.
C Chappell
C Chappell,
User Rank: Blogger
10/16/2013 | 1:58:33 PM
Re: DT is showing the way
I've just written a white paper on YANG and its companion network config protocol NETCONF - Creating the Programmable Network: The Business Case for NETCONF/YANG in Network Devices. It's clear that these technologies are on the up, in large part thanks to DT.
User Rank: Blogger
10/16/2013 | 10:10:07 AM
Re: DT is showing the way
So, does it have a choice? DT doesn't think do - this is do or die.


Can it do it? That's the 3 trillion dollara year question....
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
10/16/2013 | 9:53:17 AM
Re: DT is showing the way
What strikes me are comments such as "dramatically simplified" and "drastically simpler" - these are not evolutionary changes DT is seeking. And that's different from past "transformations."

Can a company this size make dramatic changes? Does it have a choice?
User Rank: Blogger
10/16/2013 | 9:01:43 AM
DT is showing the way
Deutsche Telekom is consistent and committed and, in patr, is driven by the fear that, without a much more simpole and agile and scalable network, it is toast.

Listen up, operators of the world!! You need to get on board -- stop fighting and get with the program!! 
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