Category Archives: Telecommunications

One Open Source To Orchestrate Them All

First the change happened in Information Technology (IT): moving from hardware to software; virtualization inspired by cloud computing; data centers becoming configurable and programmable as software using DevOps approach; traditional vendor-locked solutions superseded by new world open source initiatives such as OpenStack, Open Compute Project and Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Then Communications Technology (CT) followed the lead, making its move into the new world with notions such as software defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV) and central office re-architected as a data center (CORD). Inevitably open source took a lead role here as well, with a multitude of projects popping up, led by different industry forces.

LinuxFoundationNetworkingAndOrchestrationIn fact, too many project, which left the Telecom industry perplexed and unable to converge under one de-facto standard. Have you tried to orchestrate with each player requiring a different sign language from the maestro?

But then came the twist in the plot when the Chinese and Americans decided to join forces: ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy) that was open sourced by AT&T, and Open-O (Open Orchestrator) project led primarily by China Mobile, China Telecom and Huawei, have decided to join forces under the Linux Foundation’s umbrella, to create Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP).

What shape will the merged project take? That is yet to be decided by the community. This topic was much discussed February at the announcement on Mobile World Congress and even more so during Open Networking Summit this month, but still more questions than answers for ONAP, around modeling, protocols, descriptors, architecture…

The most important question, however, is whether the new merged mega-project will bear the critical mass required to gravitate the industry towards it, to become the converging force, the de-facto standard. Seeing the forces behind ECOMP, OPEN-O and now ONAP, including Intel, IBM, Cisco, Nokia and others, it looks promising. And the Linux Foundation is a proven vehicle for widely adopted open source projects. If succeed, this may very well be the turning point, taking the NFV & SDN wagon out of the mud and unto the fast track to production.

*Disclaimer: The writer has been working on the orchestration initiatives of ONAP members Amdocs and GigaSpaces.

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Filed under Cloud, DevOps, NFV, SDN, Telecommunications

Open Source Is Taking Over Networks, Startups Lead The Way

Innovating in the networking world is hard. With purpose-built boxes, protocols, technologies, legacy, processes… But when industry veterans from the likes of Apple, Juniper and Big Switch start up fresh and think outside the box – that’s when networks get shaken up. Just see the updates from the last couple of weeks:

After building the complex networks for iCloud, Apple engineering veterans decided to leverage their experience and last week launched their new startup SnapRoute. SnapRoute promises to bring a “developer friendly and operations focused network protocol stack that runs on all commoditized network and hardware with any Linux operating system”. This open stack will remove the dependency in the software provided by the vendors providing the network equipment (such as routers and switches) and will enable innovation decoupled from the vendor.

snaproute-open-source-network

SnapRoute’s first open source project is its FlexSwitch, which it contributed to the Facebook-founded Open Compute Project. FlexSwitch will also be offered as an option for the OpenSwitch operating system. OpenSwitch is an open source, Linux-based network operating system designed to power enterprise grade switches from multiple hardware vendors that will enable organizations to rapidly build data center networks that are customized for unique business needs. Earlier this month OpenSwitch got accepted to the Linux Foundation, which will surely facilitate and boost its open source community activity.

openswitch

Another promising startup, which made headlines recently following Google’s investment, is Barefoot Networks, which brings the vision of programmable networks. Their innovative switch chips can be programmed using the P4 language to run various network tasks to replace today’s purpose-built networking equipment. Interesting to note that both Barefoot Networks and P4.org are also members at the OpenSwitch project.

Apstra is another interesting startup that was launched last week and was founded by networking veterans from Big SwitchArista and Juniper, which offers data center network automation. It employs an intent-driven approach for network operations, and treats the network using the methodologies of distributed systems:

“You need to recognize that your network is a distributed system. This allows you to operate your network as a system”

To be fair, startups are not alone in this front. Check out what GoogleFacebook and Amazon have been doing in their data centers. Together, startups, big players and open communities push the traditional networking world to the modern era.

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Filed under Cloud, SDN, Telecommunications

Programmable Networks – Is The Dream Finally Coming True?

One of the hottest trends in the Telecommunications industry is Software Defined Networking (SDN), the idea that you can control the logic of the data flow dynamically using central programmable logic, instead of having it hard-coded into every individual networking “box”.

Stanford Prof. Nick McKeown, one of the guys who invented SDN, and a serial entrepreneur in networking technology startups, now brings the next transformation: programmable switching chips. While in today’s networks special-purpose chips are used which are hard-wired to run specific protocols, the new switch chips can be programmed so that they could perform different functions such as firewall and load balancing, which currently require specialized networking equipment.

McKeown’s new startup Barefoot Network just completed its series C funding round with $57 million from Google (Alphabet) and Goldman Sachs. Google’s interest isn’t surprising as Google has been exploring next-generation networking for a while, and even earlier this year joined the Open Compute Project (in which Goldman Sachs is also a member).

The chips will be programmed by P4, a language for protocol-independent data packet forwarding. P4 is backed by a large open consortium of industry leaders, including tier-1 Telcos AT&T and Huawei, leading manufacturers such as Intel, Cisco and Juniper, and even software giant Microsoft. Reportedly the new chip can reach up to up to 6.5Tbps (terabits per second)—double the speed of the fastest comparable technology on the market, which is critical in making the new chips realistic for the high-performance standards of Telecom.

The vision of Software Defined Networking and that of programmable switching chips is basically one. As Barefoot puts it:

We envision a world where programmable networks outperform fixed-function networks. We believe that programming the network should be as easy to program as a server.

That’s a vision worth pursuing. And it may just about to come true.

You can read more on the latest announcement on this comprehensive coverage by the Wall Street Journal.

For a more technical deep-dive, download Barefoot’s whitepaper here.

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Filed under NFV, Programming Languages, SDN, Telecommunications