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Leading Lights 2019 Finalists: Most Innovative Telco Cloud Product Strategy (Vendor)

Thirteen vendors, from Altiostar to ZTE, are helping operators apply SDN and NFV technologies to transform their networks from the core to the edge.

Mitch Wagner

April 24, 2019

19 Min Read
Leading Lights 2019 Finalists: Most Innovative Telco Cloud Product Strategy (Vendor)

Telcos and other network operators face an imperative to move their networks to foundations based on cloud technology. Existing, appliance-based network infrastructure just doesn't have the agility to meet the demands of today's efficiency-obsessed enterprise and mobile consumers -- and old networks certainly won't cut it for 5G.

Vendors are stepping up to meet those needs. Like fratboys at the hint of free beer, telco vendors are running to market with products and services to help operators migrate networks to the cloud.

We had a tough time winnowing through all the great entries in the Most Innovative Telco Cloud Product Strategy (Vendor) category for the Leading Lights awards. So many of them were good that a baker's dozen -- 13 -- made it to the finalist stage. They are:

Find out who wins our coveted Leading Lights award in this and all our other categories, and learn who will be inducted into the Light Reading Hall of Fame, at the Leading Lights Awards dinner, at the Pinnacle Club in Denver, Monday May 6, on the eve of our Big 5G event. Book a table and attend the awards dinner.

Figure 1:

And now let's hear about the shortlisted companies:

Altiostar's vRAN solution for mobile operators enables deployment of an end-to-end cloud model that virtualizes the radio network and runs it on software, making it easy to upgrade or reconfigure without having to go to vendors for custom solutions. These networks scale and adapt to meet demands of an explosion of devices and applications, driving service velocity and profits.

Altiostar's technology is currently deployed as part of Rakuten's innovative new, fully virtualized mobile network. This 5G-ready mobile network infrastructure relies on an open ecosystem led by industry leaders such as Intel and Qualcomm and Virtual RAN disruptors such as Altiostar.

Altiostar's solution allows mobile operators to embrace new innovative networks with the openness, programmability and automation required to support 5G. With Altiostar's vRAN solution, operators can achieve this flexibility while leveraging the same open and common software fabric to ensure interoperability, dual connectivity, scalability and adaptability between 4G and 5G environments.

Through the virtualization of RAN functions, Altiostar has delivered a carrier-grade solution providing high availability, ultra-low latency, massive scalability and ease of maintenance. From an operational standpoint, Altiostar's vRAN solution connects intelligent remote radio heads with virtualized compute nodes over any transport -- dark fiber, WDM, FTTx, Carrier Ethernet, microwave, etc. -- providing mobile operators with the ability to utilize existing investments in transport infrastructure. Additionally, as a truly virtualized solution, Altiostar's vRAN is able to reduce opex costs by decreasing installation and setup time, perform remote configuration and management, automate network repairs and reduce truck rolls.

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Casa Systems
Casa's Axyom Virtual Broadband Network Gateway (vBNG) Router brings virtualization and NFV to fixed telco broadband networks. At least six Tier 1 fixed broadband service providers around the globe are already in trials with the Axyom vBNG. These operators want to virtualize their networks and gain the cost and flexibility advantages of NFV.

Casa's vBNG provides advanced subscriber management and routing capabilities to enable dynamic scaling, subscriber load balancing, and service agility. Casa's Axyom vBNG Router's was built as a cloud-native solution for both OpenStack and container-based cloud networks. The router's design disaggregates network functions to enable independent and dynamic scaling of control and data planes in both centralized and distributed architectures. This flexibility equips service providers with the ability to locate their user plane functions where they are needed, whether on a small local server or in a large centralized data center. Also, the Axyom vBNG is 5G convergence ready with dynamic slicing, as demonstrated at MWC2019.

Axyom vBNG delivers superior throughput, dynamically scaling from 40Gbit/s to 1Tbit/s. Casa's collaboration with Intel has resulted in innovations that streamline packet flows.

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Cisco Systems: ACI Anywhere
Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) solution, ACI Anywhere, deploys any workloads in any location and on any cloud with consistent networking, segmentation and security policy.

Telco operators will face challenges in their 5G datacenter networks to provide increased bandwidth requirements, with consistent policy and service extensions to the edge and public clouds. Operators will also need to orchestrate a new generation of virtual network functions (VNFs), automate management of virtual and container infrastructures, troubleshoot proactively, collect real-time network insights, and integrate the datacenter workload with WAN transport for end-to-end network orchestration.

Cisco ACI Anywhere automates policy, security, service orchestration, and redundancy, from the far edge to multicloud. The technology takes advantage of low-cost 400G platforms, automated chaining of VNF and physical services, real-time and historical visibility of end-to-end traffic, security through a whitelist model, and seamless integration with the transport network.

Service providers that have implemented ACI have seen improvements in deployment, performance, security and management.

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Cisco Systems: Unified Domain Center
Business customers today lack visibility and control of their IT services across the mobile network operator network. To succeed, the MNO needs to make its WAN look and feel to its enterprise customers like an extension of their own RANs.

The Cisco Unified Domain Center (UDC) creates a mobile cloud portal for the enterprise. It extends the enterprise intent-based networking domain to include connected bandwidth via MNO networks. This can include network slices, mobile SD-WAN, VPN, etc.

UDC benefits both enterprise and MNOs. Enterprise IT departments can view and control their entire network via a single pane of glass, as if it were their own LAN. UDC enables the MNO to be a valuable partner to its enterprise customers and monetize networking as a service (NaaS).

UDC operates as a thin software layer that runs at an MNO network, or cloud operator, so enterprises can:

  • Manage all end points from a single dashboard.

  • Provision and dynamically update policies, filtering and enforcement for end points.

  • Control and define roaming policies.

  • Apply user groupings to mobility end points.

  • Define filtering and conditional criteria for information acquisition.

  • Add security and usage information toward enhancing security.

  • Perform automated and timely deployment.

  • Manage quality of experience of requested services.

UDC brings together the power of cloud, network, security and enterprise. With it, MNOs can tailor the software platform and template to differentiate their enterprise solutions. UDC uses open APIs to offer enterprises a different set of capabilities as a service. It protects the MNO by verifying any changes made by the enterprise. UDC is currently undergoing trials at several Tier 1 carriers around the world.

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DriveNets' Network Cloud is a network architecture built for rapid growth and service innovation, as well as profitability. The technology is currently deployed in a production network of a Tier 1 service provider.

Inspired by hyperscalers' cloud architecture and network virtualization, Network Cloud supports disaggregation at multiple levels, disconnecting network cost from capacity growth. Network Cloud simplifies the network's operational model, shrinks expenses and increases profit.

The first level of disaggregation is hardware and software. DriveNets sells only the Network Cloud software that runs over white boxes which are sold directly to communication service providers by manufacturers with a cost-plus model. This new economic model allows CSPs to increase their profitability as service demand grows.

The second disaggregation is router architecture. Network Cloud disaggregates the traditional monolithic router to a cluster built from two white boxes and standard servers that run routing services. This architecture can scale from small routers to edge, aggregation, and large core routers using the same hardware solution. This approach of two building blocks for all routing needs eliminates maintenance of tens of router models, and hundreds of inventory parts and maintenance procedures, simplifying operations and reducing opex.

The third disaggregation is separating the data plane and control plane. Network Cloud's data plane runs on white boxes and is designed to scale linearly from 4 to 768 Tbit/s by simply adding more white boxes. The control plane is based on containerized microservices that run different routing services for different network functions, such as core, edge and aggregation. Service chaining allows sharing of the same infrastructure for all router services, when routers are co-located.

These disaggregations are supported by Network Cloud's orchestration capabilities, including Zero Touch Provisioning, full lifecycle management and automation, as well as transparent diagnostics.

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Ericsson's industrialized NFVi solution enables dramatically faster and much more reliable deployment of cloud-native 5G and pre-5G telco-grade NFV infrastructure. To accomplish this, Ericsson has introduced automated processes and tools that both pre-integrate and pre-test the individual cloud infrastructure components within the complete solution before delivery to the customer. Then, to shorten deployment time, automated scripts are employed to configure the solution to the customer's individual requirements. Finally, to ensure upgrades of individual components are as risk-free as initial deployment, automated test suites are executed for every product upgrade. These automated test suites also perform fine tuning to re-optimize the performance and reliability of the entire solution every time an upgrade is performed.

NFV infrastructure is critical to 5G, but the complexity of integrating decoupled components into a complete solution has slowed its adoption. Therefore, Ericsson believes that innovations in NFVi should address these challenges first, in case they compound the problem.

Ericsson's system-verified NFVi solution was designed from the beginning with technologies that lay the foundation for 5G. Container orchestration enables the quick launch of new services. Software-defined networking is essential for the network slicing required by 5G and edge services. Software-defined infrastructure pools resources for quick allocation to any workload across the entire system. And MANO employs automation to maintain 5G levels of agility and mission critical reliability, including tuning, workload allocation, predictable roll-out of services, fault detection, compliance, and more. Even though Ericsson's solution is pre-integrated, vendor lock-in is reduced because Ericsson certifies hardware and VNFs from other vendors, while employing open source components and conforming to ETSI standards.

The result of these innovations reduces deployment time, shortens time to market, and, above all, ensures minimal risk of adoption -- all essential enablers of 5G.

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F5 Networks
F5 offers an extensible solution that will allow service providers to simplify deployment and management of virtual functions, tasks which have proven to be significant challenges.

F5 provides preconfigured NFV solutions, purchased with guaranteed throughput options in 5, 10 and 50 Gbit/s increments. These ready-to-install packaged solutions provide a capacity-based pricing model for NFV deployments which simplifies network planning and purchasing. The package includes F5's new VNF Manager, which delivers automated, end-to-end VNF lifecycle management, allowing for rapid deployment, auto-scaling, auto-healing, and update and upgrade of virtual instances, increasing ease of deployment and management.

VNF components are organized into "service layers", which auto-scale to meet a defined throughput. When the SLA is exceeded, new layers are automatically spun up. These new layers do not need to be purchased before they are enabled. Instead they can be paid for after the need arises, on a use-before-buy basis. This reduces the need for over-provisioning and dramatically simplifies network capacity planning.

F5's Automation Toolchain provides for programmatic deployment, configuration, and management of F5 devices and the services they support. The packaged NFV solutions leverage this toolchain to provide entire solutions. Currently, F5 offers Gi LAN and Gi Firewall solutions, however, F5 provides a framework for new solutions using its existing model and agile development, reacting to customer needs, on an eight-week agile release cycle.

Service providers seek cost predictability and certainty, as well as ways to efficiently use resources and to quickly implement new services. The packaged offering from F5 allows for easy deployment of an engineered solution.

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Data center networks still lack the scalability, automation, programmability, openness and proper support for IPv6 and 5G, which were promised by software-defined networking. SDN has proven too expensive, resource-inefficient, and unable to guarantee isolated virtual network slices. And in many cases, SDN introduces higher latency. Only hyperscalers with immense resources and an overwhelming business need have been able to overcome SDN's limitations at scale. The market needs a solution that delivers the benefits enjoyed by hyperscalers, for the rest of us.

To solve these challenges, Kaloom has created what it says is the industry's first automated, programmable data center networking fabric. The fabric has advanced self-forming and self-discovery functions. It provides zero-touch provisioning of virtual networking components with automated software upgrades that enable faster provisioning -- minutes vs. days with traditional solutions -- at both configuration time as well as during runtime. Automation minimizes human intervention, thus saving on time and effort, as well as minimizing errors. By collapsing and offloading data plane functions from virtual machines and containers, Kaloom's Software Defined Fabric delivers an increase of up to 2x in throughput with a 7x reduction in latency, improving overall networking efficiency by a factor of 5–10x at one-tenth the cost of competing solutions.

Kaloom's Software Defined Fabric leverages open networking white boxes to reduce capex while its automation features reduce opex and minimizes time to deployment. The P4-based programming capabilities of the fabric future-proofs network investments compared to slower, more costly merchant silicon product cycles. The fabric also supports elastic network virtualization and slicing that provides isolated network slices to individual tenants in the data center. Also, several major improvements have been implemented to improve container networking for mission-critical applications. As a container-based solution, Software Defined Fabric reduces compute, storage and network utilization by 40%, and is targeted to cloud providers, telcos and enterprises.

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Netcracker Technology
Netcracker Business Cloud is an end-to-end, cloud-based SDN/NFV and IT solution, spanning VNFs, orchestration, OSS, BSS, portals and digital marketplace. As the name suggests, Netcracker Business Cloud is available as a cloud service. Netcracker Business Cloud offers deployment flexibility using Netcracker's cloud or a multicloud environment, with Netcracker taking responsibility for the end-to-end service. For service providers, Netcracker Business Cloud offers the flexibility to host the solution in a single location and deliver it as a service to affiliates, enabling them to offer next-gen B2B services quickly.

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Pluribus Networks
Operator migration to distributed telco cloud architecture leads to a proliferation of mini-data centers deployed at central offices, 5G basestations and other lights-out locations. That migration dramatically increases data center networking complexity.

Pluribus Networks' Linix-based Netvisor ONE OS and Adaptice Cloud Fabric (ACF) is an SDN and open networking solution optimized for distributed edge compute, providing benefits including:

  • Reduces operations costs by up to 90% and virtually eliminates human error by enabling multiple DC sites to be programmed and automated as one one logical entity

  • Increases agility and speed to service with simple fabric-wide RESTful programmability

  • Minimizes latency by distributing L2/L3 IPv4/IPv6 network services to all nodes of the fabric

  • Delivers comprehensive network slicing across control, data, and management planes

  • Simplifies troubleshooting with fabric-wide visibility of every flow and connected device

  • Improves resiliency with an automated VXLAN virtual mesh between all switches

  • Increases feature velocity, eliminates vendor lock-in and lowers capital costs by leveraging open networking principles with white box economics

ACF is deployed in more than 200 customers globally, including the mission-critical 4G/5G mobile cores of over 30 mobile network operators. ACF is based on open networking principles and offers a controllerless SDN fabric designed for multi-site DC architectures. By distributing controller intelligence and full network state to every node of the fabric, ACF eliminates the complexity, cost, single points of failure and controller-to-switch latency incurred with first generation controller-based SDN solutions.

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Red Hat
The Red Hat virtual central office is an edge blueprint built on an open pluggable framework that can be used to deliver mobile, residential and enterprise services from modernized telecom central offices. It includes NFV and SDN architectures on a telco cloud platform that encompasses multiple Red Hat technologies as well as partner solutions for virtual network functions (VNFs) and operational systems.

Central offices are used by service providers to deliver critical services and network access to enterprise, residential and mobile customers at the edge of the network. Hundreds of thousands of central offices connect access and aggregation networks to metro and core networks, making them a key asset in service delivery. Even so, the purpose-built, proprietary hardware most service providers rely on can limit agility and innovation, preventing them from offering the modern services users demand today.

The Red Hat virtual central office solution enables providers to virtualize most components of these deployments. Using network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN), technologies can alleviate the limitations of traditional central offices by improving agility, innovation and customer experience while also reducing costs by up to 43%, according to an OPNFV study.

Beyond the Red Hat technologies upon which it is based, the virtual central office solution also incorporates a broad set of technologies from Red Hat's extensive telco partner ecosystem. Participating partners include Accton, Affirmed Networks, Altiostar, Amdocs, Cumulus Networks, Edgecore Networks, F5 Networks, HPE, Inspur, Kaloom, MYCOM OSI, Trilio and World Wide Technology. This ecosystem embodies a commitment to open choice of complementary technologies, helping service providers choose whatever path makes the most sense for them in deploying services at the network edge.

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Volta Networks
Volta Elastic Virtual Routing Engine (VEVRE) is a cloud-native virtual routing platform that, says Volta, reduces total cost of ownership by up to 90% compared to legacy routers, scales up to 255 virtual routers per white box switch, and supports industry-standard routing protocols and carrier automation, using an open API with NETCONF and YANG support.

VEVRE separates the control and data planes and leverages the benefits of cloud and white box switches built on Ethernet switching silicon to achieve its cost savings. The VEVRE platform provides complete interoperability with any existing router, to empower network operators to scale their network cost-effectively, using virtual routing leveraging powerful white box switches and a cloud-based control plane.

Based on patent-pending technology, VEVRE includes a control plane, which runs on any public, private or hybrid cloud. Virtual Route Processors (equivalent of a routing engine), which are hosted on the VEVRE platform, are unique to a specific customer, application or service, and are assigned to a set of physical or logical ports on white box switches. The vAgent, a software agent on each white box switch, communicates through standard APIs to the associated virtual route processor.

VEVRE addresses the business challenges and economic realities of operating networks that need to scale to support exploding bandwidth consumption from hyper-connected consumers and businesses. VEVRE contrasts with legacy router vendors' approach to the problem, which is to buy bigger routers (expensive and proprietary lock-in) or network OS appliances that require per-device management and lack cloud scale.

Volta is already engaged with seven Tier 1 network operators worldwide, including NTT, and has been named a software finalist by Vodafone, TIM Brasil and Telefonica as part of the Telecom Infrastructure Project's DSCG specification. Volta was also recently named an "integral" partner for Fujitsu's new Smart xHaul solution.

Facing the rapid deployment and business innovation of 5G networks, ZTE's telco cloud product strategy combines cloud-native and NFV architecture to provide mixed deployment of containers and virtual machines for VNFs.

ZTE's telco cloud builds a cloud management engine around the open source projects Kubernetes and OpenStack, providing container, virtual machine and bare-metal resources. OpenStack is the unified infrastructure management framework, and Kubernetes provides a standard, new infrastructure API for cloud-native software.

The telco cloud product strategy enables operators to inherit the mature resource management framework in the NFV domain, reduce system integration complexity, and reduces overall costs of network cloud-native evolution.

Using the ZTE telco cloud platform, the Indian multinational operator Airtel realized the mature commercialization of 4G vEPC in 2018, providing bare-metal container resources and PaaS services for vEPC VNF on the same cloud platform, and providing virtual machine resources for its operations and maintenance system.

The ZTE platform meets operator requirements for the flexibility and agility of VNF services during rapid business expansion, and reduces the costs of unified management of heterogeneous platforms at the same time.

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— Mitch Wagner Visit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on TwitterJoin my Facebook GroupRead my blog: Things Mitch Wagner Saw Executive Editor, Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

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