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Calix First to Launch Software-Defined Access

Carol Wilson
10/27/2015

Calix unveiled its plans for software-defined access Tuesday, bringing virtualization technology developed for the data center to the sometimes harsh environment of the outside plant.

Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX)'s new AXOS, or Access eXtensible Operating System, is making its debut in Las Vegas at the vendor's annual user group event and is the first publicly announced access system of its kind. (See Calix Launches Virtualized Access System.)

AXOS is a software platform based on a Linux operating system that will be hardware-independent and features both modular and reusable software components that can be changed and upgraded without requiring an upgrade to the underlying hardware. It can also do in-service upgrades and fault recovery on an automated basis, eliminating the need for the extensive regression testing required today when features are added or upgraded, and eliminating outages -- both planned and unplanned.

Calix is promising that this will mean faster service upgrades and new feature delivery. Its AXOS management platform is designed for simplicity, according to the company, and will have fully programmable application programming interfaces (APIs) to interoperate with other software-defined controllers, as well as operations and support systems.

AXOS is the result of four years of work, says Alan DiCicco, director of network solutions marketing for Calix, and was developed keeping in mind the realities of the access world including unpredictable weather and natural disasters and the need to maintain network connections along the last mile without the benefit of route redundancy.


Get up close and personal with vendor NFV strategies in our NFV Elements section here on Light Reading.

AXOS incorporates key elements of SDN and NFV as they are developing today. All of its components and operational functions use standard Netconf protocol and Yang data models and can fit into open SDN orchestration and control frameworks such as Open Daylight. It will also have open, published APIs to enable customers to program their own network applications and services.

It isn't a fully virtual access system -- it does still run on Calix hardware, but by abstracting software elements from the hardware, the access gear maker is taking a major step in the virtualization direction.

"We are attacking it as a vendor who is used to dealing with the access, using a Linux-based kernel and building on the work that has been going in the data center," DiCicco says.

The data center environment is, of course, very different from the access world -- the former is extremely controlled and controllable with redundancies built in and upgrades possible, driven by economics. In access, the environment is uncontrolled either fully or partially, equipment is expensive to deploy and is expected to last a long time.

By creating a hardware abstraction layer, Calix designed AXOS to be able to flex with changes in software modules above and silicon changes below, DiCicco says. Network services would be abstracted into separate processes, so that service upgrades and changes aren't made in massive software releases that arrive every 18 months or so, but on-the-fly and as needed to separate software modules, he says.

Calix has virtualized its provisioning processes so that the management and control functions are more flexible, DiCicco says. AXOS maintains a stateful operation, so that system processes and state information are separate. That's a key element to enabling AXOS to provide constant self-auditing and self-healing, to reduce downtime in the last mile, something that is critical to service providers, he notes.

The access vendor is also making use of containers -- its software modules are containerized -- and is promising to allow third-party software to be deployed via AXOS open and standard interfaces to functions such as telemetry.

Containerization includes all the elements a given piece of software needs to run in one package, including its code, runtime and systems tools and libraries, so that software modules can be more easily put in place.

Calix has already used AXOS to demonstrate bonded G.fast technology, DiCicco says, cutting deployment time significantly.

"We were able to do that in a matter of weeks -- what would have taken months or years, importing an entirely new chip set into hardware," he says. "That is the type of innovation you are going to start to see."

Calix will be taking this new software-defined access methodology to an audience that, to date at least, has proven reluctant to fully embrace virtualization. Many of its customers, including most of those gathered this week in Las Vegas, are smaller telcos with suburban, small-town and rural operations, and to this point have let SDN and NFV be acronyms that mostly concern larger operators.

DiCicco acknowledged that some of Calix's traditional customers will want to stay in the comfort zone of their current hardware-based approaches but sees software-defined access as a trend many others will want to embrace for its simplicity, ease-of-upgrades and ability to be more reliable.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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t.bogataj
t.bogataj
11/4/2015 | 2:50:35 AM
Shame on you -- You're mixing SDN and NFV!
Reusable SW components... Virtualisation platform... HW abstraction layer... That's all virtualisation and NFV, not SDN! No sign of SDN in the article at all.

I expect LR to do better and distinguish the categories.

T.
frnkblk
frnkblk
10/29/2015 | 9:59:27 AM
Re: Umm, what about Adtran?
@brooks7: You asked some of the same questions I had. Calix is tapping into the SDN and NFV buzzwords, but this announcement is really more about a radical change in their software development approach and processes ("agile" was mentioned more than once) to improve speed to market with new features, code fixes, and and ability to quickly support new hardware once a HAL (hardware abstraction layer) has been built. Rather than a "monolithic" approach, as they described at their user group conference, it's modular, with well-defined interfaces between each module.

You're dead on that they've been using a form of Linux for all their products lines, since their first C7.

What's unique about this announcement is that they've been using this software development approach for more than year on the E5-308 and E5-520 products, and I've used that selective patching process.  In service upgrades without rebooting the whole box is a big plus, if they can consistently pull that off.  No one wants to see another version of Cisco's ISSU on the 6500/7600.

It's interesting that Calix's AXOS introduction mentions "x86 white box CPE", but there was no formal statement they are actively working to put their software on those white boxes.  ADTRAN, in contrast, at least talks about "open OLT & ONT Interfaces" (http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/2712658).

 
brooks7
brooks7
10/28/2015 | 10:49:01 AM
Re: Umm, what about Adtran?
Carol,

Okay, I see the advantage of modularity in the whole thing - which is what is described here.  The separation of functions with well defined APIs makes the software better done.  But it doesn't exactly make it virtual or software defined unless we want to redefine what those things mean into a specific context.

As to provision and software based upgrades - Access Products have been doing that since about 1993 and many long term Calix team members know it.  Now the notion that things are separated into separate processes and can be start/stopped independently is new and good.  But are they running a hypervisor and doing this in separate VMs or just as separate Linux processes (and by the way having a Linux kernel has been around a LONG time (Vxworks is a linux kernel and has been used in lots of embedded systems).  I would ask if they are using a standard Red Hat or Unbuntu (or whomever) distribution or if they have done a LFS or a custom distribution.

And Alan DiCicco is an actual rocket scientist!

seven

 
cnwedit
cnwedit
10/28/2015 | 9:19:24 AM
Re: Umm, what about Adtran?
I don't doubt Adtran is also virtualizing its broadband access product - as are others. The three analysts I checked with said this was the first announcement of this type, where the provisioning and upgrade process is softwarre-based. 

But I am taking a closer look at the space shortly and everyone will get their due.
NorCalSurfer77
NorCalSurfer77
10/27/2015 | 11:23:16 PM
Umm, what about Adtran?
http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/2712658

Also, I think they are active on defining the SDAN standard with AT&T.  
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