Kontron, a company known for its embedded computing technology, is leveraging virtualization and open source to become a direct supplier to large service providers, promising to integrate hardware and operating system software with best-of-breed virtual network functions.
That new sales strategy has evolved to support containers, particularly as they fit at the edge of the network, which for Kontron AG is the cell tower. In May, Kontron announced that its integrated SYMKLOUD open source platform now supports the latest versions of OpenStack for virtual machines and bare metal, as well as Kubernetes v1.10 for Docker and containers, via its distribution partnership with Canonical.
The effort is firmly focused on edge computing, incorporating the most recent OpenStack Foundation Edge Computing group updates, as well as containers, which are expected to be a crucial part of pushing the cloud close as possible to the network's edge.
The shift in strategy to move beyond bare metal and offer integration of OpenStack and Kubernetes was on display at the 2018 OpenStack Summit in Vancouver, where, according to Eric Sarault, product manager for software and services, Kontron was unique among hardware vendors in "showcasing OpenStack running Kubernetes on the platform and that brought attention from all the major service providers attending the event."
Service providers are looking for integration support, notes Roz Roseboro, Heavy Reading principal analyst, because re-aggregating all the disparate pieces of a virtualized architecture and incorporating the appropriate open source software can be a bit of a heavy lift. But they still want to avoid vendor lock-in, she notes.
"Kontron is serving the role of full solution provider," she notes in an interview. "They make the hardware, and so they know the knobs to turn to optimize the software that runs on it. That is how stuff has always been done. It used to be one company that owned all that stuff and now they are pulling in other people's stuff and making sure everything works."
That holds the promise of letting a service provider pick and choose among VNFs, and even potentially change OpenStack distributions, Roseboro notes, although the latter may be impractical. And as Sarault points out, service providers still have one throat to choke if something goes wrong.
Kontron didn't do this overnight, notes Peter Matz, senior global marketing manager. The company joined OpenStack Foundation in 2013, then began to hire software developers and in the last 18 months to two years, has made this significant strategy shift, focusing heavily on open source.
"What we specialized in is the hardware design but we have been taking on this whole new mission whereby we see the value in open source and we want to increasingly become part of that open source community," he says.
That includes joining Linux Foundation Networking and upstreaming the work of its software team into multiple projects, particularly ONAP and OPNFV, he notes. Also, Kontron has revamped its remote SYMLAB test and benchmarking environment, to enable operators and VNF vendors to sign up and do interoperability testing, using OPNFV's Fraser release.
"We are a bit smaller as a company but we are expanding quite rapidly in terms of what we are doing and where we are participating," Matz says.
The final challenge to that is changing the company's image and reputation among service providers. As Roseboro notes, many telcos may be using Kontron gear today but don't know it because it deploys within a larger vendor's solution. "I think there is a market opportunity for them to go after because service providers are willing to consider other vendors, especially if they seem to be moving faster," she comments. And one place that could happen first is at the celltower, where wireless operators are pushing out virtual radio access network (V-RANs) and looking for containerized options, Matz says.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading