Cloud Services

Saudi Telecom Pins NFV Future on OpenStack

Saudi Telecom (STC) has taken a strategic decision to use OpenStack technology for all new virtual network functions (VNFs), saying the alternatives did not match up in terms of cost benefits.

Through a partnership with software developer Mirantis Inc. , the Saudi Arabian telecom incumbent has already begun offering public cloud services based on OpenStack to customers in its domestic market, it has revealed today.

The announcement will provide a boost to an open-source technology that has attracted plenty of criticism in recent months.

During a conference in Dusseldorf in October, a representative of UK incumbent BT complained about the shortcomings of OpenStack and said BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) was considering alternatives. More recently, doubts about the long-term viability of OpenStack have surfaced within OpenMANO, a group led by Spain's Telefónica . (See BT Threatens to Ditch OpenStack and Split Emerges in Open Source MANO Efforts.)

Saudi Telecom Co. (STC) would have shared many of these doubts about two years ago, according to Saleh Mosaibah, the operator's vice president of cloud services, but has now overcome its chief concerns.

"Other proprietary technologies would just limit us from being able to optimize our operational expenses," he says. "If we had thought about it two years ago we wouldn't have picked it but it's now a lot more mature and robust and is becoming de facto for the big cloud players, other than the giants that own their own technologies."

STC is taking a step-by-step approach to the rollout of virtualization technologies, according to Mosaibah, but it plans to use OpenStack for all new VNFs. "I think network vendors are still not 100% ready for the cloud," he says. "We've identified a specific standard we impose on all vendors and as we move to the cloud we will take it workload by workload."

STC says its infrastructure-as-as-service offerings are currently available to all businesses in Saudi Arabia and include a marketplace where software vendors can publish their own products.

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Following a soft launch in October, fewer than 100 large businesses are currently taking advantage of the offer, but those numbers are expected to ramp up when STC begins actively marketing the service. A campaign is due to get under way towards the second quarter, says Mosaibah, who estimates there are approximately 35,000 businesses in the country in total.

Organizations that have been using the service have seen a range of benefits in terms of scalability and security, claims STC. "It's basically on-demand infrastructure without the need for an upfront capex investment -- the typical benefits you would expect from cloud services, " explains Mosaibah. "What differentiates us is that we are a local organization and so customer are assured their data stays in Saudi Arabia."

Although the current focus of STC's cloud strategy is on offering public cloud services in Saudi Arabia, the operator is working with Mirantis on developing private cloud offerings, which could appeal to organizations like the military.

STC is emerging as something of a regional pioneer when it comes to virtualization moves.

Last November, it was revealed to be using a virtualized evolved packet core developed by Affirmed Networks Inc. to support Internet of Things services on its commercial network.

At the time, Affirmed Networks claimed the vEPC was allowing STC to make a profit on IoT services that would otherwise have been too costly to offer competitively. (See NFV Made IoT Profitable for STC, Says Affirmed.)

Speaking about investments in SDN technology, Mosaibah tells Light Reading that STC has already implemented SDN on the data-center side but is not using it for WAN and MPLS. "That's an area where the network team is studying and researching different options," he says.

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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