More Than Just Code: Open Networking Early Adopters Share Lessons Learned
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- ONF Connect -- The transformations brought about by open networking technologies go beyond code; open networking changes how carriers work both technically and organizationally, according to pioneers at T-Mobile Poland, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica and AT&T.
At this week's ONF Connect conference hosted by the Open Networking Foundation, operators that are starting to work with emerging open platforms talked about their approaches and experiences.
A technical team leader at T-Mobile Poland said deploying open source software gave the carrier more freedom to innovate but also forced it to take responsibility for understanding and developing network software.
On Wednesday, Deutsche Telekom, Spain's Telefónica and AT&T joined with Arthur D. Little to release a report calling on operators to adopt virtualized architectures. On a panel discussion, they revealed some details about their experiences so far.
Deutsche Telekom is developing an architecture for central offices based on SDN-Enabled Broadband Access (SEBA), a set of technologies being developed by ONF. The German carrier set out to solve an explicit goal: to develop a lean, automated way to give subscribers gigabit-speed access, starting with fiber services. It plans to bring the technology into production next year.
SEBA allows operators to virtualize edge infrastructure in central offices and other facilities. But making the change is more than just writing new code, said Chief Engineer Hans-Joerg Kolbe, who spoke on a panel on Wednesday.
"The technology is one thing, that's the fun stuff, but the boring stuff is like, how does it fit into the lifecycle? What is the real cost behind it?," Kolbe said.
DT was driven by a desire to cut its internal costs by producing services more efficiently. Moving toward bare-metal hardware based on merchant silicon looked like a cost-effective way to do that, he said. But with a SDN control plane giving the operator the ability to write its own applications, time to market for new services could be significantly reduced.
"Fun stuff" like edge computing and mobile can come later, Kolbe added.
Kolbe's team couldn't bring on dozens of network engineers at the beginning of the project, so it started small, setting up ONF's Central Office Rearchitected as a Data Center (CORD) architecture in the lab and doing cost modeling. Now it has a dedicated organization focused on the project, following through on a plan set a year ago.
The group adopted the DevOps organizational approach from the startup world, and added planning, where engineers look at the practical implications of any rollout. These include basic implications such as whether a given box will fit through the door where it needs to go.
DT has learned developing production-ready technology requires strong partnerships. "We can't do this on our own. We need a strong community," Kolbe said. DT's main partner is Reply, the European consulting and systems integration company. The carrier has also learned the importance of having team members who know how to code using the continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) process, he said.
Spain's Telefónica is trialing SEBA pods, or clusters of edge technologies managed by SEBA, with an eye toward offering new services, said David Artuñedo Guillén, CEO of OnLife Networks, an advanced-services unit of Telefónica.
It took nine months to build the first pod, which the carrier then deployed in a CO in Madrid after ensuring it met environmental requirements for the site, where conditions can be more harsh than in a data center. Working with a small team at one CO has been a good way to innovate before a decision is made to expand new services to other areas, Guillén said.
The hardest task was deploying the technology in customer-facing trials.
"It forces you to focus on delivering a good customer experience," Guillén said. Part of that was building a support team to respond to potential problems.
The carrier started with a trial of standard broadband service, then expanded to other offerings. The first was a virtualized content delivery network (CDN) for delivering TV services. Several hundred people now use services in that trial. Using elastic, cloud-based infrastructure for the edge of the network allowed Telefónica to adapt to peak viewing times, such as big soccer matches, by adjusting resources it used at the edge. The infrastructure improved the viewing experience, Guillén said.
Then the carrier used the new infrastructure for a content storage service. The infrastructure improved the performance of network-based storage so much that customers didn't need an appliance on site to do fast uploads and downloads, Guillén said. Instead of connecting to a public cloud through multiple congestion points, customers can use their high-speed connection to Telefónica's edge. "For the first time, you can use your bandwidth to upload the content," Guillén said.
Another trial involves video transcoding, linking multiple TV cameras at sporting events directly to the network edge. Producers at the broadcaster's headquarters can choose camera angles by watching lower-quality streams and then take full-quality streams from the edge for just the angles they want to use in the broadcast.
AT&T has been working with SEBA in its wired broadband network. It began on the wireline side because it is less complex and has a well-defined customer base, versus an emerging area such as IoT, said Tom Anschutz, distinguished member of technical staff. The skills learned there will transfer to mobile, he said.
Also, as AT&T and other carriers adopt open source approaches, they will be able to tap into a bigger pool of potential developers.
"The folks that are trained for IT or for web-scale companies -- as we adopt those technologies, those folks are trained for our technologies," Anschutz said.
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