Category Archives: Telecommunications

Edge Computing Gets A Push From Telcos To Power Self-Driving Cars, AR/VR and Other Future 5G Applications

The next revolution after Cloud Computing is Edge Computing, a revolution pushed by industry trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data Analytics and Machine Learning. The idea behind Edge Computing is simple: doing the processing not in central cloud data centers hundreds of miles away but rather “at the edge”, in close proximity to the source (end user, cellphone, smart car etc.). Running at the edge, according to AT&T, can “boost the potential of self-driving cars, augmented and virtual reality, robotic manufacturing, and more”.

But where is this “edge”? And who provides it to us?

Could public Cloud Computing vendors serve Edge Computing? In fact, cloud vendors make their money off centralized services, leveraging their economy of scale to serve the masses off their monstrous centralized state-of-the-art data centers. But when it comes to Edge Computing this winning formula breaks since cloud vendors simply don’t have localized edge presence that can reach a few miles from the end user (not even their distributed caching/CDN sites).  Indeed, cloud vendors are starting to recognize the potential threat and are trying to mitigate it by providing some edge computing solutions, but these depend on others to provide the edge location. One might even speculate that Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods store chain may also serve as local real estate for edge computing aspirations.

So who has the edge presence?

The perfect candidates are the Telcos, the communications service providers who own the access networks that deliver data, telephony and even TV to every home, business and cellphone. A prime example is AT&T, which last month announced its plans to deliver Edge Computing:

Instead of sending commands hundreds of miles to a handful of data centers scattered around the country, we’ll send them to the tens of thousands of central offices, macro towers, and small cells usually never farther than a few miles from our customers.

AT&T will start deploying Edge Computing in dense urban areas. The first deployed service is FlexWareSM, targeted for enterprise customers. But that’s just the first step. AT&T sets out to “reinvent the cloud through Edge Computing”, leveraging its other cutting-edge technologies of Software Defined Networking and Network Virtualization. Later on, with its next generation 5G networks, AT&T says it expects to reach “single-digit millisecond latency” – an ambitious goal indeed.

AT&T is not the only one in Telecoms to explore Edge Computing

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has set out in 2014 to standardize edge computing for the telcos under its Multi-Access Edge Computing architecture (MEC, originally Mobile Edge Computing which was expanded last year to cover both mobile and fixed access networks). There are also open-source initiatives such as Open Fog Consortium (initiated by Cisco which coined the term “Fog Computing“), Open Edge Computing, and the recently-announced Automotive Edge Computing Consortium (which focuses on connected cars), each with its proud list of member telcos teamed up with vendors and academic institutions (some members participating in more than one). Edge Computing is also widely discussed by telcos in 5G forums, seeing that the upcoming 5th Generation networks will face not just a surge in bandwidth demand but also rising needs by massive IoT communications and latency-sensitive applications.

Open Edge Computing

Open Edge Computing

Telcos can leverage their unique footprint to provide Edge Computing services

The world of Edge Computing is getting a serious boost from the Telco industry, with its existing ubiquitous local points of presence, customer base and service provider capabilities – all the ingredients needed to provide edge computing as a service. This is also a life-saver for the telcos, which are facing the risk of becoming “just a dumb pipe”. While telcos largely failed to compete in the public cloud arena, Edge Computing enables telcos to fight off the cloud vendors and other over-the-top players biting off their business, and bring much-needed value-added services right to the very edge.

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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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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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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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