OCP Drives Telco Data Centers & the New IP

The Open Compute Project and the shift to SDN and NFV is driving a complete change in the architecture of telecom data centers and infrastructure.

Simon Stanley

May 10, 2016

4 Min Read
OCP Drives Telco Data Centers & the New IP

The Open Compute Project (OCP) and the shift to virtualized functions using SDN and NFV is driving a complete change in the architecture of telecom data centers and telecom infrastructure. Rack-scale architectures, modular servers and rack-mount appliance platforms are the leading COTS solutions for the New IP infrastructure being developed today. These platforms are replacing blade servers and ATCA for many telecom functions including security appliances, application servers and the Evolved Packet Core (EPC).

The rapid rise in the use of Internet and cloud-based services from companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft and the development by these companies of hyperscale data centers to support the services has created challenges and opportunities for telecom service providers. Facebook and Microsoft have specified modular, rack-scale server platforms to meet their specific requirements and made these designs available to multiple suppliers through OCP. This approach has dramatically reduced their costs by removing unnecessary features and expanding the supplier base.

The shift to virtualized network architectures using SDN and NFV is changing the platform requirements for telecom infrastructure. Many telecom functions are being implemented as virtual functions that can be quickly provisioned to run on virtual processing, storage and switching resources as required. These fundamental changes make the telecom infrastructure operate like cloud-based services and therefore the COTS platform requirements for this New IP infrastructure are very similar to those required by Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

Telecom equipment providers have traditionally supplied blade servers and rackmount servers for telecom data centers and a mix of carrier-grade servers and application-specific systems based on ATCA or proprietary platforms for telecom central office equipment. The latest COTS platforms for telecom applications are being built on designs influenced by OCP, Intel Rack Scale Architecture (RSA) and ATCA. The latest modular server and rack-mount appliance platforms have interconnects and chassis management based on ATCA but can deliver the same performance at significantly lower costs.

Heavy Reading's new report, COTS Platforms for the New IP Era: A Competitive Analysis, identifies and analyzes the full spectrum of vendors developing rack-scale platforms including those covered by OCP, Microsoft OCS and Intel RSA, carrier-grade servers, appliance platforms, modular servers, blade servers, ATCA and MicroTCA. The report profiles more than 40 vendors and analyses approximately 275 different products and product families, identifying the key features and highlighting the advantages they hold for service providers and telecom solution providers. The report includes not only detailed information on the platforms and components but also insights into how the overall New IP COTS market and ecosystem is developing.

OCP and other rack-scale solutions are available from multiple IT suppliers including Amax, Dell, Hyve Solutions, MiTAC, Netberg, Penguin Computing, QCT, Stack Velocity and Wiwynn. Traditional telecom suppliers Artesyn, Ericsson, Oracle and Radisys have developed rack-scale solutions and Nokia is working with suppliers to define an OCP-based solution for telecom applications that will be contributed back to OCP.

Carrier-grade servers and rack-mount appliance platforms are available from many suppliers including Advantech, Dell, HPE and Kontron. These companies, as well as Cisco and Lenovo, have modular servers with up to 45 CPU modules supporting Intel Xeon or ARM based processors. Many of these platforms have high-performance network modules supporting 10GE and 40GE interfaces and acceleration for packet processing and security functions. Cisco, HPE and Lenovo continue to sell blade server platforms.

There is still a steady market for ATCA and MicroTCA platforms. The latest ATCA platforms are "100G ready" and support up to 700W per slot. There are several hundred AMC modules available for use in ATCA, MicroTCA and proprietary platforms. The recently introduced modules covered in this report integrate the latest Intel, Cavium and NXP processors or the latest FPGAs from Xilinx and Altera. MicroTCA platforms are widely used in telecom test equipment and application-specific mobile base stations. ATCA and MicroTCA are also used in military, industrial and scientific applications.

The leading COTS platforms for the New IP are based on standard server building blocks with CPU modules or sleds and PCIe based acceleration and network interface cards. Many of the designs are being made available through OCP and this is leading to a fragmented market with many similar but incompatible hardware designs. The virtualized network infrastructure using SDN and NFV is now expected to provide a common software platform with service providers choosing the COTS hardware platform that best meets their requirements.

— Simon Stanley, Analyst at Large, Heavy Reading

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About the Author(s)

Simon Stanley

Simon Stanley is Founder and Principal Consultant at Earlswood Marketing Ltd., an independent market analyst and consulting company based in the U.K. His work has included investment due diligence, market analysis for investors, and business/product strategy for semiconductor companies. Simon has written extensively for Heavy Reading and Light Reading. His reports and Webinars cover a variety of communications-related subjects, including LTE, Policy Management, SDN/NFV, IMS, ATCA, 100/400G optical components, multicore processors, switch chipsets, network processors, and optical transport. He has also run several Light Reading events covering Next Generation network components and ATCA.

Prior to founding Earlswood Marketing, Simon spent more than 15 years in product marketing and business management. He has held senior positions with Fujitsu, National Semiconductor, and U.K. startup ClearSpeed, covering networking, personal systems, and graphics in Europe, North America, and Japan. Simon has spent over 30 years in the electronics industry, including several years designing CPU-based systems, before moving into semiconductor marketing. In 1983, Stanley earned a Bachelor's in Electronic and Electrical Engineering from Brunel University, London.

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