Ericsson's Network Slicing: It's Far Out, Man

AMSTERDAM -- Broadband World Forum 2013 -- Ericsson today unveiled its vision of the future communication networking landscape, one of integrated wide area cloud networks, managed by software-defined networking (SDN) tools and next generation orchestration software systems that can provision feature-rich network slices on the fly to meet the demands of leading edge applications. (See Ericsson Combines Carrier SDN With Cloud System.) But it's a long-term vision.

As with many other traditional vendors, Ericsson AB is talking up the prospect of "open networks" and instant network resources managed by new-fangled OSS systems that are driven by big-data intelligence and policy control capabilities. Like many of its peers, it's unveiling and developing new products for existing networks that promise some of the operational and efficiency gains that underpin the next-generation networking vision but which, ultimately, tie network operators even more closely to the current set of proprietary platforms.

The vision, which comes under the banner of the Ericsson Cloud System, presented here by CTO Ulf Ewaldsson, is an extension of the Service Provider SDN vision that he unveiled at this time last year. (See Ericsson CTO: Let's Redefine SDN.)

"It's an ambitious strategy that will take a long time to become a reality, but this is at the heart of SDN and NFV [network functions virtualization]," notes Graham Finnie, chief analyst at Heavy Reading .

The new product is a multi-application line card for the company's SSR 8000 routers that, utilizing Ericsson's SNP 4000 network processor, can house multiple virtualized network functions on the routers that can "hyper-accelerate" the launch of applications. "Centralize what you can but distribute what you must," stated Jan Häglund, vice president of Ericsson's IP and broadband unit (pictured below). (See Ericsson Unveils Network Processor.)

It makes sense to have some applications housed on the network element for latency reasons, he noted, and it's something operators are demanding. "We are getting a lot of requirements for multifunctional edge routers. It provides operational and performance gains" compared with having functions such as traffic management on separate, standalone hardware, he added.

The Cloud in My Hand
'Can I get a slice of the network with my chips please?' Ericsson's Jan Haglund holds up the SNP 4000 chip that's part of the vendor's new applications-centric router line card.
"Can I get a slice of the network with my chips please?" Ericsson's Jan Häglund holds up the SNP 4000 chip that's part of the vendor's new applications-centric router line card.

The Ericsson Cloud System
So what is the new vision? Basically, it's the ability to set up dedicated network resources on demand as applications require. These dedicated resources are enabled by "network slicing," which involves the provision of connectivity and applications from the end user device (whether that is a smartphone, a TV, a car, a smart meter, etc.) all the way to the cloud, whether that be a centralized data center or a distributed entity at the edge of the network (for example, as part of the radio access network).

This, says the CTO, would involve the use of SDN capabilities to "control the cloud and the services in the cloud, allocate processing power and create a virtual machine at the edge of the network in real time, in a base station for example, based on the service requirements for an application." At the heart of this operation is the SDN controller (Ericsson has already developed an initial platform) and orchestration software, something that Ericsson is basing on software being developed by the Telcordia team that is now part of the giant vendor's business support solutions division.

"Each slice of the network would have its own QoS [quality of service settings]… with the virtual machine able to be created anywhere and orchestrated [by] analytics and policy," stated the CTO.

Ewaldsson recognizes that this is a massive step away from current network operations and management capabilities and that the open nature of such systems means that Ericsson might ultimately lose out in some areas (as a supplier of technology) but, he hopes, gain in other areas.

The key thing, he says, is to ensure that "networks are as relevant as possible for the future. If we don't, we won't realize the full potential of the networked society" and the assets, such as radio spectrum, that can be utilized to deliver services and connectivity.

"A lot of this is visionary stuff, but that is part of our role, to help networks to become the biggest and most important part of the networked society. That involves exposing the network so it can be accessed via APIs by applications. If we can't achieve this then the result will be that the services envisioned by the enterprises," such as car manufacturers, "will not be realized."

But does Ericsson have what it takes to deliver this vision? Can its Telcordia team deliver against the demands of virtualized network management? Ewaldsson says that the management of virtualized assets was something the Telcordia team was already working on prior to the 2012 acquisition and that Ericsson has "added to that development…. But we don't exclude having to add more capabilities," the CTO noted. "The requirements for orchestration are changing and everyone wants to develop the ultimate orchestration system…. We need to be humble."

Being humble also means knowing that Ericsson does not have all the pieces of the puzzle. Even so, does Ericsson have aspirations to extend its managed services offerings to such extensive, complex, virtual cloud networking environments? "It's something we are being asked about. We are thinking and listening," says Ewaldsson.

Networks of the future
So, did Ericsson's vision of network slicing and end-to-end application-based resource enablement impress industry analysts who were present at Ewaldsson's presentation?

Finnie sees its value long-term, but his Heavy Reading colleague Caroline Chappell wonders whether the telcos have the wherewithal to take it on. "It's an ecosystem play. Are the operators up for it? Enterprises could just as easily build bespoke networks to deliver specific services" rather than use a slice of a virtualized carrier network, she notes, "all they would need is some dark fiber. But then they would face the same management challenges as the telcos," she adds.

"It sounds like Ericsson wants to have its cake and eat it," quips Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown, when asked about Ericsson's network slicing vision. "What's encouraging is that Ericsson understands the opportunity and that it could lose out, as well as gain, from such a scenario," he adds. "What Ericsson has as an advantage is that it is very good at timing its technology developments and very good at managing its accounts," he adds.

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

DanJones 10/24/2013 | 10:29:55 AM
Re: Orchestration software Ubuntu folks have some orchestration tools too. They're looking more into mobile these days.
Dredgie 10/24/2013 | 9:18:56 AM
Re: Orchestration software Yeah - I guess there are 5-10 guys working on MANO? E///'s will be pretty OSS/BSS-centric, but CloudNFV are looking to do the same by aligning  / extending TMF GB922 / GB942 Management Models to optimize integration with OSS/BSS and NMS.
DanJones 10/23/2013 | 7:47:24 PM
Re: Orchestration software They might *say* they do, not sure I believe that anyone has it all knitted together yet though.
DOShea 10/23/2013 | 5:14:08 PM
Orchestration software So, Telcordia is working on orchestration software, but isn't that part of the puzzle other companies have ready... already?
Bjarne10 10/23/2013 | 2:45:19 PM
"A lot of Preparation and no H" Will be interesting to see other reactions from fellow service providers, thus far what I read between the lines is throw more iron a problems = invest more on infrastructure capacity, service providers are hamstringed by rising costs of pipe and OTT players are generating more data loads and not paying for it, I dont see Ericsson helping solve the problem leading in innovation. 
futurephil 10/23/2013 | 1:46:08 PM
Re: Slicing and dicing You know i just look at the pictures. Even the ones I'm not in.

But, indeed, it will take a while. Operators need to start working with partners now and virtualizing some network functions so they can gain valuable experience for when these NFV orchestration layers really are mature enough to go farther down the path that Ericsson's envisioning.

And, yes, they did have some lovely line cards...
DanJones 10/23/2013 | 1:46:08 PM
Re: Slicing and dicing Re: Software: "BUt if you asked them that question I bet it would give you a very long list, seeing as how it has a sizeable software division."


Sounds like a follow-up story for one of us, yeah?
[email protected] 10/23/2013 | 1:39:54 PM
Re: Slicing and dicing Phil - you must heave speed-read it - check paragraph 5..... it's a line card frenzy.

For Ericsson and the other major vendors it's one step at a time. BUt if you asked them that question I bet it would give you a very long list, seeing as how it has a sizeable software division.

And this, as Ericsson noted and my learned freinds at Heavy Reading stressed, is a long-term vision - slicing and dicing and waving the orchestration baton ain't happening for Ericsson any time soon.


It was interesting, though, to hear about this vision and also hear about how more functions are being added to an Ericsson (Redback) router all in teh same presentation. The vision vs the reality.

futurephil 10/23/2013 | 1:19:50 PM
Re: Slicing and dicing Wait, hold up. I just swam through 1,200 words about a line card announcement? I'm impressed but for all the wrong reasons.

What has Ericsson actually built in software (that can run on anyone else's hardware) that backs up its vision?
[email protected] 10/23/2013 | 11:00:08 AM
Slicing and dicing As Ewaldsson said, Ericsson wants to push the boundaries and be proposing new networking concepts that can help meet the needs of innovative enterprises in multiple verticals.... but boiy does it sounds complex.

Can telcos and networks evolve to this state? or is this a goal, an end game, that is a great theory but one that is too far out of reach? 
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