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Telcos Falling Further Behind OTTs on Virtualization

Web giants are already waving goodbye to technologies that operators are only just introducing.

Iain Morris

December 9, 2015

3 Min Read
Telcos Falling Further Behind OTTs on Virtualization

DUBLIN -- 2020 Vision Executive Summit -- Operators investing in new virtualized networks are already at risk of being left even further behind by web players introducing container technologies such as Kubernetes and Docker, according to Caroline Chappell, a principal analyst at Heavy Reading.

Speaking at Light Reading's 2020 Vision event in Dublin earlier today, Chappell said that companies like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) are already moving the goalposts of the entire SDN and NFV game.

"Operators are trying to orchestrate first-generation VNFs [virtual network functions] with OpenStack while Internet players are waving goodbye to OpenStack through their rear-view mirrors," she told attendees during a presentation on the concept of the "composable" telco. "In fact, even Kubernetes is becoming old school for Google, which is moving on to something else."

Running applications inside software containers, which sit on top of the Linux operating system, represents an alternative to the use of virtual machines that include guest operating systems and more IT overhead. (See BT Pins NFV Future on Containerization and Containers a Critical Piece of Telecom's Future.)

According to research from Heavy Reading, some 97% of service providers are planning to deploy NFV technologies at some point over the next five years as they try to fend off growing competition from more agile web players.

As Chappell points out, however, the Internet players are not dealing with the same degree of end-to-end complexity facing telecom service providers when it comes to virtualizing their infrastructure. "If they are able to get that right and instantiate on that scale, it could be a unique opportunity for telcos," says Chappell. "The rest of the digital services life stuff will be a walk in the park."

While many operators are currently focused on what Chappell calls "first-generation" NFV, which involves the disaggregation of hardware and software, the next step will involve "decomposing" VNFs into microservices that can be assigned to virtual machines or containers.

The ultimate goal, however, is to have single-feature VNFs that can be developed into service chains. "You can decompose complex functions and then recombine them in novel and flexible ways," says Chappell.

CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) is one example of a traditional operator that is basing its service development on these principles, citing its own software development team as the critical enabler of its hybrid platform.

For more NFV-related coverage and insights, check out our dedicated NFV content channel here on Light Reading.

Chappell believes there are three approaches to extreme automation, with most operators opting for a top-down approach that involves addressing challenges in the orchestration area.

Others reckon orchestration will eventually run out of steam and are instead trying to automate from the bottom up. "The idea is that you have components and give them all programmable brains so they can manage themselves," says Chappell. "

The third way is to have a programmable smart agent that controls the connections between various components. "Anything can talk to anything across this fabric," says Chappell. "You can impose information models and change them."

What seems clear is that operators are coming under pressure to adapt from changing customer needs. "An online retailer is probably going to need a different service model to talk to its customers' fridges than its back-office supply chain management system," says Chappell. "That will require extreme speed and automation and you won't be able to do that with the monolithic VNF beasts of today."

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

About the Author(s)

Iain Morris

International Editor, Light Reading

Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).

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