September 25, 2020
Even though I've stepped away from my day-to-day analyst duties, I still get excited when I see major operators making major announcements regarding transformation. The latest from SKTelecom, announcing an MOU signed with Samsung, HPE and Intel, is no exception. Digging into the release, though, I was less excited to see how little has changed.
My first clue should have been "NFV" in the headline. Having written "NFV" hundreds (thousands?) of times throughout my career, I am surprised that "NFV" remains headline-worthy. Calling out the ability to "enable multiple hardware/equipment functions such as switch and storage to be realized in the form of software, thereby improving efficiency in network operation and reducing time for deployment and upgrade of their network solutions" strikes me as particularly outdated. As I was on my way out the door, containers had shoved VMs aside in the telecom and IT zeitgeist. All the cool kids were into Kubernetes and people were standing vigil over OpenStack. It was grudgingly acknowledged that the two would co-exist in the near term, but that's only because the effort to containerized old-school functions outweighed the benefit. All the new stuff like 5G? All containers, all the time. Allegedly.
The release stated that "Under the MOU, the four companies will jointly develop evolved NFV technologies for 5G network infrastructure, establish a standardized process for adoption of NFV, and develop technologies that can harness the capabilities of the virtualized network." Seems to me a little like an indictment of the valiant efforts of standards and open source bodies to do achieve these goals in a large-scale collaborative effort. The more pessimistic among us may view this announcement as another sign of the industry reverting to its previous ways of doing business. I, however, think of myself as an optimist and cheer any attempt to move the ball forward. Validating new designs, integrating elements from multiple providers and verifying platforms in a network are all monstrously huge challenges, so the more companies, groups, consortiums, communities working on them, the better. As long as they do so transparently and openly. But that's a discussion for another day.
I did not recall any mention of "the cloud," but a keyword search showed that there were, indeed, two mentions I missed: in the navigation footer at the bottom of the page. None were found in the body of the release. Hadn't the hyperscale public cloud folks shown that cloud-native was the best game in town? Wasn't automated, zero-touch, elastic, distributed processing decided upon as the future architecture for any and all workloads? Weren't the telcos signing partnership deals with those aforementioned hyperscale public cloud folks so they could quickly get a piece of the cloud action? Did I miss something?
Please understand: This is in no way meant to disparage SKT or any of its partners. In fact, SKT has announced cloud-related developments including a partnership with AWS to deliver edge cloud services. I mention this mostly because it serves as a reality check. I am just as guilty as anyone of seeing what I want to see, hearing only people who support my opinions and pooh-poohing anyone who takes a more measured approach. We are talking about the revolutionary transformation of extremely complex and mission-critical infrastructure after all. Perhaps level-headed and deliberate is what's called for. Perhaps we, I, got a little ahead of things. As with any sort of change, different operators will move at different paces. The ones moving the fastest tend to get the accolades. The rest watch patiently as those first movers absorb the pain that comes along with those accolades.
And in the end, does it really matter what operators choose to do with their networks and operations – virtualization, containerization, cloudification? If they can launch new services their customers are willing to pay for, do so more quickly than they could in the past, at a lower cost for hardware, software and ongoing operations, they will have won. Maybe change will come more slowly than industry-cheerleaders like myself may have hoped for, but they say good things come to those who wait. I remain hopeful that I won't have to wait too long to get excited again.
— Roz Roseboro, Consulting Analyst, Light Reading. Roz is a former Heavy Reading analyst who covered the telecom market for nearly 20 years. She's currently a Graduate Teaching Assistant at Northern Michigan University.
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