The steady move of the telecoms industry towards open source – in software and even hardware – will be challenging for companies which have traditionally turned their inventions directly into revenues and differentiation. One approach is the classic ‘Red Hat’ one of building paid-for added value software and services on an open foundation. Another is to harness an open source platform to become a systems integrator.
This is being pursued both by Amdocs in management and orchestration (MANO) of virtualized networks, thanks to its work with AT&T on developing ECOMP, the telco’s software which is now the basis of the open source ONAP (Open Networking Automation Protocol). It is also the route taken by Radisys, once best known for protocol stacks and ATCA boards, but now reinveinting itself in the world of virtualized telco networks by taking prominent roles in open source projects.
While open source can save a lot of upfront cost for operators, it does not necessarily reduce cost and complexity in planning and deployment. Some early adopters of open NFV/SDN technologies like Openstack, including Vodafone, have talked about the need to find strong skills to ensure open systems are deployed to support full carrier-grade capabilities.
At the NFV World Congress in Silicon Valley in May, Mansoor Hanif, director of BT’s converged networks research lab, said he liked the fast pace of open source, but had needed “a whole new generation of network engineers”. Patrick Lopez, Telefónica’s VP of networks innovation, said supporting open source had involved a large amount of inhouse work to simplify the architecture. “To do that, we have refused to go see a large vendor or large integrator and give them a mandate. We decided to do it ourselves and learn ourselves,” he said. The cost savings operators want from open source, automation and virtualization will only happen if they “get their hands dirty” and learn programming, he added.
Companies like Amdocs and Radisys will hope that most operators will not emulate that approach, but will call on external integrators.
ECOMP was developed with Amdocs as part of AT&T’s ambitious NFV and SDN program, and now it is in open source, the software house is taking on an integration role, both for AT&T itself, and potentially for other operators which are adopting ECOMP. In January, it announced a trial of the software with Orange Poland, to assess it for virtual services, initially in Poland and then across the global Orange footprint.
As for Radisys, it has rebranded itself ‘Open Radisys’ to highlight its work within two major open source projects, CORD (Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter) and the Facebook-led Open Compute Project (OCP). The company says it is aiming to become a major integration partner for telco data center infrastructure.
At this week’s Mobile World Congress Americas in San Francisco, Radisys announced products and marketing positioning around CORD – part of the ON.Lab initiative alongside ONOS – whose aim is to enable the telco central office to function as a data center in a distributed and virtualized environment.
The company also listed key milestones so far. These include:
A deal with Verizon for Radisys’s FlowEngine Intelligent Traffic Distribution System as the front end for the operator’s SDN service delivery platform.
The OCP’s adoption of its CG-OpenRack-19 specification, the basis for Radisys’s DCEngine product.
Collaboration with China Unicom on Mobility CORD implementation for 5G services.
An alliance with Calix to deliver the first commercial Residential CORD platform.
Perhaps its most important milestone has been to unveil the first open source evolved packet core (EPC) for CORD. It has donated its virtualized EPC to M-CORD under an open source licence, an increasingly popular way for vendors to extend their influence, but one which brings into question the future relevance of official standards bodies such as 3GPP, normally trailing well behind the open initiatives.
The EPC has, for many mobile operators, been the first place to move from physical to virtual platforms, because it is relatively self-contained, unlike the access network; and because a virtualized core can enable new services and so generate speedy return on investment, unlike elements in which virtualization is primarily an efficiency driver.
So Radisys is hoping to have got in at the ground level, to influence the shape of the M-CORD framework. It says it is lowering barriers to entry for traditional and new service providers to deploy 5G foundations, by addressing one of the three main elements of the M-CORD framework (the others are the virtualized RAN, and mobile edge services). Its vEPC supports the Mobility Management Entity (MME), Serving Gateway (SGW) and Packet Data Network Gateway (PGW) in software, running on commodity hardware.
Radisys CEO Brian Bronson told LightReading he wants to be “the Red Hat of telco infrastructure”, adding: “We open sourced our EPC, we open sourced our RAN, we just got approval that our submission is the telco de facto standard for OCP, so the CG-OpenRack-19 is our DCEngine product,. We do have our own products and capabilities but it is really the integration capabilities that we are highlighting moving forward, like CORD.”
This could take it head-to-head with far larger data center infrastructure providers, but as with suppliers of traditional telecoms hardware such as base stations, these will have to change rapidly now that operators have a taste of the new open approaches of initiatives like CORD, OCP and Facebook’s Telecom Infra Project (TIP). Bronson says Verizon chose its technology because Radisys was open, and because it had come from a telecom background which most server makers lacked. “The original instantiations of DCEngine, which were called TOCP or Telecom Open Compute Platform, were put together to address telecom when everyone was addressing normal enterprise,” he said. “We got engaged with Verizon, they embraced TOCP and DCEngine and bought $100m of our gear.”
He claims Radisys is working with a number of very large, as-yet unannounced operators, in addition to Verizon, but a major challenge in 2017-2018 will be to make more carriers aware that the company now offers systems integration as well as products – though the products and demoes are important, too, both for revenue and to add credibility to the integration play.
At MWC Americas, the company showed off a Multi-Access CORD proof-of-concept combining wireless and wireline access infrastructure. It has also announced MobilityEngine, the new generation of its CellEngine family, which supports disaggregated RAN software and services to help build a bridge from LTE to 5G; and upgraded hardware for the DCEngine.
The MobilityEngine is an “open 5G RAN platform and services offering that supports LTE-Advanced network deployments today, while delivering an easy migration path to 5G. It enables a phased 5G roll-out approach to prepare mobile service providers for mass scale 5G deployments in the near future,” says the announcement. The platform is based on the 5G Technical Forum’s specification with a roadmap to 5G New Radio (NR).
MobilityEngine will also support emerging 5G services at the network edge as well as network slicing. It can do this within an ETSI MEC (Multi-access Edge Computing) framework, or it can be deployed in a CORD architecture which disaggregates the access from the core network, and the software from the underlying hardware, while supporting open APIs.
One of the biggest barriers to virtualization, for many MNOs, is the fear of wasting the huge investment of money and effort into conventional platforms. Joseph Sulistyo, Radisys’ senior director of open networking solutions and strategy, said at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February: “We’re not trying to make the case that this 100 years of effort [in the EPC] be thrown away. We think we want to build 5G capabilities, not by building the services from scratch, but by working out what we can take from that 100-year effort. We’re not trying to rebuild the data center but we are trying to reimagine the data center architecture in the central office.”
Sulistyo went on: “The open source driven model is a fundamental element for the 5G roadmap as it enables extraordinary agility for identifying and responding to subscribers’ needs far more quickly than traditional mobility standards. To effectively and productively achieve these objectives for less, we need to empower and integrate EPC with NFV (for virtualization), SDN (for disaggregation), and cloud (distributed ‘anytime, anywhere’ services and continuous DevOps model).”
The wider CORD project supports SDN, NFV and elastic cloud services and integrates with other relevant open sources efforts such as OpenStack, ONOS, Docker and XOS, all running on white box switches and servers, and merchant silicon. It is part of ON.Lab’s mission to create an SDN platform that is specifically optimized for carriers, rather than adapting something which was originally conceived for enterprises, like the more established OpenDaylight.