Vodafone's Heeran: Defining the Telco Cloud
A clear message for vendors
For vendors, Heeran has some very clear messaging. "We are not going to get stuck building silos again. We need these open interfaces. This will help with cloud adoption and automation … this is all about maximizing the use of resources and ensuring multivendor orchestration."
So is the vendor community on board? These messages have been heard before and the tech suppliers all talk about their open platforms, yet… is there any pushback at all?
"There is no consistent level of embracing it … pushback is a bit strong. No one refutes the mission, but disaggregation is a bit challenging for some vendors. For the ones that don't have the full stack, this is music to their ears. For those with a full stack, it's a threat. But all the vendors know this is coming, and it's not just about forcing multivendor scenarios … it's about forcing openness across the design with no proprietary stitching. So a vendor could be providing a full stack but that stack needs to be disaggregated and have open APIs," notes Heeran.
"We need to set expectations and allow the suppliers to catch up. We need to create a reference for the industry … we're still waiting for properly cloud-aware functions but when they arrive, we will have the cloud in place," he adds.
And if the network operators can provide the vendors with the blueprint of their network and IT clouds, then those cloud-aware functions that will actually work on top of those networks might be delivered a bit quicker.
Describing the telco cloud
Heeran would like telco networks to steer developers in the same way as the web-scale giants have done: Developers are provided with detailed feature sets by the likes of Amazon and those developers follow those specifications to ensure their software works on the web-scale platform.
So the Vodafone man is on a mission to get the industry to agree to a common telco cloud blueprint that the vendors can follow and work to.
"We need to specify what the resources of a telco cloud will be like, so that the developers can build applications for the whole industry. If we do that right, the apps will not need to [be aware] of what's running underneath. So we are working on resource definitions, and we've been talking with Orange (NYSE: FTE) and others, including the GSM Association (GSMA) , about a common definition of the telco cloud. This is a key hurdle to get over mentally. We need to get away from applications determining the platform and have the platform dictate how the applications should be designed," says Heeran.
That, then, would require an agreed and detailed blueprint for NFV infrastructure (NFVi). The phrase "herding cats" springs to mind.
"We need to define how developers design. Developers for the cloud have a clearly defined menu of what they need to follow. So we need to describe the telco cloud on which apps will work -- if we can't describe what a telco cloud looks like, then the developers have no chance."
The likes of Amazon Web Services Inc. have done this for the public cloud -- it would be a big step for the communications service provider community to come together and agree on something similar. But this is an industry built on standards, after all, so…
So when does Heeran hope this will all come together? When will Vodafone, and others, have a true telco cloud that can onboard VNFs/applications with ease?
That timeline seems uncertain. "That's hard to answer. We are underway with the transformation process. We started the core transformation years ago and are well underway. We have virtualized VoLTE in most of our operations … and have a virtual packet core ahead of 5G."
What comes next, it seems, will largely be driven through ONAP and other open source initiatives. Now all Heeran needs is the full support of the industry: Given that not everyone's on board for ONAP, with Telefónica in particular backing a different horse for automation and orchestration (Open Source MANO), that might be what some sports commentators refer to as "a big ask." (See ETSI's Open Source MANO Gets a Makeover.)
— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading