White Box Systems Integration

Integration Key to Building 'White Cloud'

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- White Box Strategies for CSPs -- Telecom operators have an opportunity to create their own "white cloud" to deliver applications and services on-demand, using key building blocks such as white boxes, but there are significant challenges to accomplishing that, Christos Kolias of Orange Silicon Valley told a packed house here Tuesday at Light Reading's White Box Strategies for CSPs event.

Kolias, a senior research scientist at Orange (NYSE: FTE) who is heavily involved in the industry organizations developing virtualization technologies, sees integration as the key challenge as communications service providers work to adopt the same kinds of hyperscale technologies that are fueling their biggest competitors, namely the Amazons and Googles of the world.

He pointed to the opportunity to "create a marketplace for services and applications" including emerging Internet of Things and marketing apps such as trading adds for free bandwidth to support video streams, as well as the ability to build customized products to the specifications of the service provider, as Google and others do today.

All of that is enabled by separating hardware and software, and moving to more commodity-type, commercial-grade hardware built on merchant silicon that can rapidly scale and support innovation at the software layer. Not that getting to that stage will be easy, Kolias said.

Noting that the CSPs need "disaggregation, not disintegration," he said there are significant integration challenges to achieving the same level of consistent performance using white boxes that exist today with purpose-built telecom gear. There are different approaches that operators can take to address the integration challenge, the Orange executive said: CSPs can rely on hardware or software vendors for help, bring in third-party integrators, do their own integration, or combine those three approaches.

Christos Kolias

"Putting [in] all the different pieces of software will be a challenge, to maintain interoperability, do the testing, and understand the regulatory impacts and things like that," he said. There are also issues around compliance to business standards and ongoing support for quality of service and service level agreements, and some level of reliability, "whether that's five-nines or four-nines," he said.

Separating hardware and software, leaving CSPs without "one throat to choke" for vendor support, Kolias added, and figuring that part out will be an additional responsibility. Nonetheless, this is the direction in which the industry is headed for its many benefits -- primarily agility and faster innovation, he said.

"We are seeing some benefits in agility and centralization of intelligence and the ability to push down policies" to programmable hardware in the network, he noted. Operators also see the potential benefits of local total cost of ownership from a converged and more homogenized network infrastructure, but, in a foreshadowing of speakers to come, Kolias didn't trumpet capex or opex savings as a reason for adopting a white box strategy.

He outlined a couple of early use cases including virtual CPE and software-defined WANs, both of which fit well with the evolution of the network edge to be smarter, and went into some detail on another application, the virtual gigabit PON, a project led by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) on which Orange is collaborating. Using commodity hardware for everything but the MAC layer of the GPON access device will enable the passive optical network gear to be made much less expensively, and deployed by the thousands.

Openness in general and open applications programming interfaces in particular become very important in the white box world, Kolas said, but he added a word of caution: Even as they become more critical, open APIs have a hidden risk. "You have to make sure someone maintains the API going forward, because if it goes away," that creates significant problems, he said, pointing to Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) apps that the Internet giant has chosen to shut down.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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