DT: Brutal Automation Is Only Way to Succeed

THE HAGUE -- SDN NFV World Congress -- Deutsche Telekom has announced an ultimate goal of developing networks that can function with "no human involvement" and urged the telco industry to pull together on developing a common approach to automation.

The German operator has been investing heavily in software and virtualization technologies as part of its pan-net project, which aims to replace the platforms it maintains in various countries with a single European network, but reckons the telecom industry has failed to hit its original "cloudification" targets. (See DT's Pan-Net Still at Start of the Marathon.)

Arash Ashouriha, Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT)'s deputy chief technology officer, said the only way that his company could now succeed was through a process of "brutal automation."

"At Deutsche Telekom we now have a vision of zero-touch network service management with no human involvement," he told attendees during a keynote presentation this morning at the SDN NFV World Congress in The Hague. "Similar to the journey with NFV [network functions virtualization], we are now keen to drive this within an industry study group."

The remarks come just a day after the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) announced the formation of a new group dedicated to "zero-touch" networks and automation. (See Automation Gets Its Own ETSI Group.)

Deutsche Telekom is one of several operators involved with that group, which has said that its objective is not to come up with new technical standards but instead to identify architectures and use cases for automation.

Like other network executives, Ashouriha is evidently frustrated that virtualization has failed to live up to its original promise so far.

"From day one the aspiration was to learn from the hyperscale companies and the reality is that we are far away from the pure cloud-native vision," he said.

Deutsche Telekom has made some progress toward cloudification through the pan-net project, but Ashouriha expressed concern about inadvertently introducing further complexity into its systems. An immediate priority, he said, was to further "decouple" the infrastructure layer from the services.

"We have the same lifecycle for VNFs [virtual network functions] as for infrastructure and our experience has shown this is a big mistake," he said. "We need to decouple these things and treat them separately and that means we will not always put in the latest OpenStack release. You need a level of stability and continuity. That has been a big learning [step] for us and there is still a way to improve."

OpenStack is an open source cloud platform that now underpins the virtualization efforts of some of the world's biggest operators, including AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) in the US.

Deutsche Telekom's ultimate objective is to be able to run applications as microservices on its network and use automation to get rid of unnecessary complexity, said Ashouriha.

With a microservices approach, a network function would be decomposed into small individual components that an operator could reuse and recompose in different ways to create customized and scalable applications.

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Ashouriha also took aim at ONAP, an AT&T-led initiative that is trying to address management and network orchestration challenges through the use of open source software.

"A big proportion of the industry has converged toward ONAP but there is still a long way to go because the full industry is not part of it and the first release is not fully usable," he said. "Lots of people are moving to ONAP but who is contributing in that community?"

Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) faces a rival in the shape of the ETSI-backed Open Source MANO group, which this week released version three of its NFV management software. (See OSM's New NFV MANO Release Sticks to a Focused Approach.)

Industry concern is growing that ONAP and Open Source MANO Community (OSM) will develop different information models and further complicate the picture.

"In an ideal world, ONAP would adopt the same information models and that would make on-boarding easier, saving operators time and lowering the barriers to entry for start-up VNF vendors," says James Crawshaw, a senior analyst with the Heavy Reading market research group.

One of the biggest challenges now facing telcos, said Ashouriha, is attracting the best talent into their organizations.

"In the 1980s and early 1990s, all good engineers wanted to work for us and we got the best talent, but in the late 1990s and first half of 2000s they wanted to work for the vendors like Cisco," he said. "Then in the last couple of years all those bright people wanted to work for Facebook and Google and Amazon."

"It is hard to attract talent with deep knowledge of software and without these resources it is difficult to run this transformation," he added.

— Iain Morris, News Editor, Light Reading

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