Radisys opens door to vEPC rival Mavenir to achieve greater M-CORD goals

After years providing racks and protocol stacks, and other under-the-bonnet offerings, Radisys is carving out a new – and higher profile – identity for itself as the heart of the M-CORD project. This open source initiative is part of the wider CORD (Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter) movement, which is gaining momentum amid telcos’ moves towards virtualization, software-defined networking (SDN) and edge computing.

Radisys contributed its own virtualized EPC (evolved packet core) framework to M-CORD a year ago, but operators are insistent that their next generation platforms must be multivendor as well as open source. So now, Radisys has integrated another vEPC, from Mavenir, into its implementation of the M-CORD code, providing an open reference solution for the system which, for many MNOs, will be the first to be virtualized.

Mavenir’s vEPC is being integrated with Radisys’ LTE virtual baseband unit (BBU) solution and bundled with the latter’s custom development and integration services. All this will result in a “carrier-grade” vEPC and Cloud-RAN, say the companies, striking another blow for the prospect of a very low cost, fully open source carrier network in future (see lead item on Facebook TIP).

M-CORD is an open reference implementation for mobile access based on open source SDN, NFV and cloud technologies. Mavenir has designed its vEPC from the ground up to be virtualized and based on microservices, to support the modern approach to building cloud-based networks. It supports CUPS (control and user plane separation) so it can scale independently in throughput, transaction rate and session capacity.

The M-CORD solution can run on Radisys’ open compute platform, DCEngine, or on other telco hardware.

“We’re pleased to partner with Mavenir to advance CSPs’ ability to break vendor lock-in, accelerate service innovation and lower capex and opex through commercial deployment of the M-CORD architecture,” said Neeraj Patel, general manager of Radisys MobilityEngine.

Ashok Khuntia, general manager of Mavenir’s access products division, said: “We have a long standing relationship with Radisys and are excited to work together to take M-CORD from lab trials to commercial deployments. Radisys’ unsurpassed systems integration expertise is critical to bringing the CORD vision to life.”

The tie-up, and friendly words, between these two companies reflects the compromises which have to be made to operate in the new open, multivendor environment. There are significant overlaps between Radisys and Mavenir these days. Both have a vEPC – initially it was Radisys’ own platform which was in its M-CORD distribution – and both have a virtualized RAN offering, following Mavenir’s acquisition of C-RAN start-up Ranzure.

But vendors like this spot the opportunity to break the stranglehold of the big equipment providers, and they know that, unless they work in a very different way, they will miss their chance to be a collective David to the Goliaths of Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia.

Mavenir’s SVP of business development, John Baker, told Mobile World Live: “Because of our size we can be aggressive with new business models. You’ve seen the earnings statements from Ericsson and Nokia on the decline of the mobile market and, to be honest, we have to agree with them. They have a huge cost base to support. We haven’t got that legacy hardware to support and can focus on virtualization using open market hardware.”

Like other challengers – and the operators which are hoping their supply chains can be shaken up – Baker claims: “We will see certainly Nokia and Ericsson declining and ourselves taking market share. The market is clearly being disrupted, and as a company that has almost 60% of our employees in R&D, we believe we will be in the top three.”

Mavenir Systems was reformed by CEO Pardeep Kohli early this year after its original incarnation – founded in 2005 – was bought by Mitel in 2015 for $560m.

Kohli formed the new company after acquiring back the mobile division of Mitel, and Ranzure, and combining with another of his businesses, cloud-based Xura. In July, the company went on to buy Brocade’s vEPC activities and associated patents.

In this new world, the main ways in which vendors can achieve strong differentiation, revenues and profits – even if hardware is commoditized and software open source – are value added services and integration. Some are following the Red Hat template, building applications and tools on top of open APIs, while others are providing turnkey implementations and integration services. These can all help shield customers from the complexity and risk of deploying critical systems based on open platforms.

Radisys, like Amdocs with the open source ONAP platform it helped to create, is reinventing itself as an integrator – and if it succeeds, it can afford to welcome rivals such as Mavenir’s vEPC into its fold. In September, it rebranded itself ‘Open Radisys’, to highlight its work within CORD 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.

Radisys CEO Brian Bronson has said he wants to be “the Red Hat of telco infrastructure”, telling reporters: “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.”

Bronson says Radisys signed a deal with Verizon for DCEngine which it won because it was open, unlike most infrastructure providers. “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. We got engaged with Verizon, they embraced TOCP and DCEngine and bought $100m of our gear.”

At the MWC Americas show in September, 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,” said 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.

Joseph Sulistyo, Radisys’ senior director of open networking solutions and strategy, added: “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 aim of CORD (Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter) – part of the ON.Lab initiative alongside ONOS – is to enable the telco central office to function as a data center in a distributed and virtualized environment. The CORD community includes service providers such as AT&T, China Unicom, Google, NTT, SK Telecom and Verizon, as well as vendors Ciena, Cisco, Fujitsu, Intel, NEC, Nokia, Radisys and Samsung. CORD is hosted by The Linux Foundation.

“We are very pleased with M-CORD progress towards creating an open platform for LTE and 5G built with merchant silicon, white boxes and open source,” Andre Fuetsch, CTO and president of AT&T Labs, said earlier this year. “As we move towards an increasingly open sourced mobile core, we can innovate LTE and 5G solutions faster and create services such as IoT, safety, mobile health and others with improved QoE and agility.”

Network slicing is perhaps the concept which will most justify 5G’s claim to offer something entirely different to 4G, and therefore be worth the investment. This will be an important objective for M-CORD, and in August, Turkish network vendor Argela provided the first public practical demonstration of how slicing could look in the M-CORD environment – using another vEPC which has been working closely with ON.Lab, from Quortus. The demo came shortly after the inaugural CORD Summit, hosted by Google, at which the technology became an independently funded On.Lab software project hosted by The Linux Foundation. On.Lab has since merged with fellow open source SDN body Open Networking Foundation (ONF).

Argela showed a successful proof of concept (PoC) for 5G network slicing on its M-CORD reference platform, the first operational rack outside ON.Lab. It demonstrated dynamically programmable and orchestrated end-to-end network slicing for 5G using its own ProgRAN architecture for virtualized RANs, and its RAN-triggered slicing technologies in the mobile core. The PoC demonstrated the virtual partitioning of both the RAN and the core to enable network-as-a-service (NWaaS) for a range of use and business cases. Argela’s core network (CN) slicing technology allows the CN elements of each slice to be separated into modules, which can then be centralized in the data center using virtual machines. These modules can be mixed and matched to provide the most suitable resources and topology for each use case and some CN components can be shared across multiple slices using orchestration.

The PoC, says Argela, demonstrate’ how RAN slices can be dynamically mapped to CN slices in real time to orchestrate end-to-end slicing. The orchestrator may map multiple RAN slices to the same CN slice, and the demonstration also included inter-slice handovers.

The demonstration used Cavium’s OCTEON Fusion-M and ThunderX processors, which are being heavily targeted at vRAN; as well as Quortus’s virtualized EPC (evolved packet core). The latter was incorporated into M-CORD, with its open source ONOS controller and XOS orchestrator.