How Real is Telecom Network Transformation: From Legacy to Leading Edge by When?


“A nimble way of transacting business is eventually going to set the clock speed for MSPs,” the company’s press release said.  “Therefore, an orchestration hierarchy that breaks down isolated system architectures is a ‘must-have’ to bring the speed and convenience that will drive competitive success.”

There has been a lot of debate about the progress, and definition, of Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN) over the last decade, with many of the largest Tier One Communications Service Providers (CSPs) moving well beyond the experimental and Proof-of-Concept phases into full-blown mandates forcing vendors to move away from proprietary hardware and software solutions and deliver software that can run on Commercial-of-the-Shelf (COTs) servers.

This has forced large enterprises offering everything from switches, session border controllers, gateways, routers and more to change not only their code but their business models, as heavy, up-front capex sales move to more flexible ongoing opex sales, upending the economics, throwing profitable maintenance agreements and services into chaos as well.

One industry leader known for his ability to build disruptive Communications-as-a-Service applications and businesses after having lived through nearly three decades of technology evolution said, “The Tier Ones have destroyed more than one good company by trying to force them to become software companies, in some cases overnight.”

The same individual said “network orchestration using software on bare metal means huge opportunities for challengers to the traditional telecom companies, especially those who truly understand software development and how the next generation of decision makers thinks when it comes to competing in a hyper-connected world. Telecom is growing, but many companies who don’t move fast enough are slowing and if they don’t adapt, their declines will be deadly.”

“The industry is gradually evolving into a competitive landscape that warrants support of a multitude of consumer and industrial applications,” said Don Alusha, Senior Analyst at ABI Research. “To that end, vendors should not optimize individual orchestration solutions while ignoring the interconnected and ever-increasing web of application and devices.”

Once again, it’s the applications and services, including new microservices, that are driving innovation in the infrastructure layer. “Vendors should aim to enhance total system properties and design their solution(s) with a ‘go for the good of the whole’ mindset. This will require a strategy shift from domain-specific orchestration products to wholesale approaches.”

The ABI report notes that “Open source is certainly encroaching into telecoms, but in the short and medium term, MSPs should be ready to face a scenario where vendors’ proprietary technology is still key to their operations. Some vendors, such as NEC/Netcracker and Amdocs offer numerous management and orchestration products, each of which complements their BSS/OSS portfolio. Others, such as Cisco and Ciena have acquired strong automation and orchestration capabilities that, when coupled with their strong networking expertise, provide a moat that extends higher up in the service domain.”

"Network orchestration is easier when those networks are software defined," said Rick Conklin, CTO, Dispersive Networks. "With a combination of disruptive new technologies and transitional moves that lead to transformational gains, service providers, governments and enterprises can enjoy the benefits of more flexible and elastic private networks today. Session-level networking is key, and we are already seeing radically different implementations of ultra-secure, ultra-reliable,  high-performance mission-critical solutions leveraging the most resilient network in the world - the Internet. Software-defined overlay networks are by their very nature orchestrated digitally, cloud-friendly, application-adaptive and uniquely positioned to secure data-in-motion for human and machine communications. I agree with ABI's insights and think the statement that 'an orchestration hierarchy that breaks down isolated system architectures is a ‘must-have’ to bring the speed and convenience that will drive competitive success' is especially perceptive. However, based on our own implementations, I think the transition-to-transformation time frame may be shorter than ABI predicts."

Dispersive offers split-session multipath pure SDN networking, that encrypts each stream using fast, industry-standard ephemeral keys (known only to the source and destination) and then sends each stream on a different path through the use of waypoints (called “deflects”).  The company claims its approach secures the stream from man-in-the-middle attackers who would have to know each key, each path, and how to reassemble the traffic. They also offer algorithms which enable the network to reduce packet loss so applications read the session as a no-loss, no-latency transmission.

Don DeLoach, IoT expert, author, board advisor and data visionary said, “As we move steadily into a cyber-physical world, our challenge becomes understanding and adapting to what is a holistic proposition. Acting on the idea that any one constituent, device, application or service exists in isolation is an impediment to progress. We need to understand that our world is becoming a system of systems. As such, the importance of understanding the various elements in the ecosystem, along with their interdependencies, allows for a higher-level comprehension required to gain the insights and benefits from this new world. Architecture means everything.”

"The Linux Foundation currently hosts 9 of the 10 most important open source networking projects in the world today. This thriving set of global communities, including ONAP, OPNFV, Open Daylight, and others are helping to shape the new networking stack," said Arpit Joshipura, GM Networking & Orchestration at The Linux Foundation. "There are always challenges associated with every technology sea change, and as a foundation, we believe in coordination between open source and open standards and are proactively working to bring communities with shared goals together which will accelerate the adoption of advanced software and cloud networking harmoniously. This broad collaboration has helped flourish this creation of shared technology.  Without the cooperation, progress will be slowed.

In the four years since OpenDaylight kicked off the open source networking revolution, innovative groups of developers from a range of backgrounds have developed open source offerings at every layer of the stack. It is now time to provide avenues for greater collaboration between those projects, as well as related projects and communities across the ecosystem. This is why we created a combined administrative structure, The LF Networking Fund (“LFN”), as a platform for cross-project collaboration, earlier this year."

LFN forms the basis of collaboration across the network stack, from the data plane into the control plane, to orchestration, automation, end-to-end testing, and more. With over 100 member organizations, it has the participation of:

  • 9 of the top 10 open source networking projects
  • Close to 70 percent of global mobile subscribers enabled by participating companies
  • Most of the top 10 networking and enterprise vendorsTop systems integrators
  • Top cloud providers

The six founding projects of LFN are:

  • OpenDaylight
  • ONAP
  • SNAS

"While AT&T’s effort to make their ECOMP framework open-source has been beneficial to the industry with its repertoire of connectors to virtualized CPE (customer premises equipment) solutions of multiple vendors, the challenge has been in the collection of operational analytics through both physical and virtual probes, and correlating APM (applications performance monitoring) with NPM (network performance monitoring) with CEM (customer experience management) to synergistically tune the network and applications,"  said Akshay Sharma, principal analyst/VP, neXt Curve. He continued, “It remains to be seen how operators will leverage network analytics and real-time service provisioning in offering new software-defined network services that will help them differentiate themselves in a rapidly-converging IT/CT market.”

Galeal Zino, co-founder and CEO of NetFoundry said,“The answer to the challenges of a hyperconnected world is not to build a better WAN.  Rather, we need a different architecture, purpose built to meet the needs of distributed, dynamic apps.  This architecture needs to put the network inside the app, making app connectivity be a function of the app itself, enabling zero trust security and app delivery reliability over any underlay WAN or Internet.”

“Communications Service Providers’ ability to deliver cloud-native and experience-changing real-time communications services depends heavily on the capability of next-generation software-defined platforms and their support of high-performance processing,” said Sanjay Bhatia, Vice President of Solutions Marketing and Strategy for Ribbon Communications.  “For example, a cloud-native solution for media transcoding means it has been designed for virtual cloud deployments taking advantage of the software-only, distributed, dynamic, orchestrateable characteristics of a cloud-based application. For the Ribbon Session Border Controller, this has meant the adoption of a cloud-native microservices architecture to distribute the core SBC application components into signaling, media and transcoding. This enables independent choice of technology based on scale, cost and performance of each of these components.”

Bhatia added, "Essentially all of our network functions technology enabling multiple applications is now available as orchestrateable cloud software that can run on appropriate cloud or data center environments, but beyond that we've created a Virtual Network Function (VNF) Manager, a generic VNF management framework managing life cycle management of multiple Ribbon and third party network functions. It enables seamless interworking with different network orchestrators and virtualization infrastructure managers via open APIs to ensure elastic scalability of network functions based on dynamic network load and/or provisioning state."

“APIs are viewed as the linchpin of a modern approach to a multi-layered orchestration that tracks data from digital services and monitors interaction and dependencies between applications, resources, and connectivity channels. MSP should unlock the value of existing rigid assets by casting isolated architectures - typically associated with backdoors - in favor of agile application(s) that can be “plugged” into the network,” Alusha said.

While it’s logically going to take years for the industry to move completely into a more open, software-driven and more interconnected world, some believe this movement is faster than others forecast it will be or wish it to be.

“Going forward, there are two possible options to shape orchestration architectures,” ABI’s announcement says. “One, institute a universal and unified architecture that supplants the current single-layer model with logic that considers orchestration holistically rather than piecemeal. Two, and the most likely scenario, implement automation at each layer of the telco ecosystem and fully integrate from top to bottom, exposing both legacy and digital assets as Application Program Interfaces (APIs).”

These findings are from ABI Research’s Orchestration and Automation for Telecom Networks report. This report is part of the company’s Telco Digitization research service, which includes research, data, and Executive Foresights.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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Contributing Writer

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