Demystifying the fast emerging carrier cloud (2)
“Cloud and virtualization continue to be attractive to manufacturers, carriers and enterprises (…) Value in terms of resiliency, survivability and supportability are trumping price. This is an interesting perspective when you consider that legacy communications systems manufacturers used to hang their hat on five-nines of premise-based reliability. It’s a new world!” – by Chris Vitek with the Society of Telecommunication Consultants.
“The IIT RTC Conference and Expo is a globally recognized collaborative event, where industry and academia connect. Leveraging its unique academic setting, this annual conference brings together technical professionals and business executives from the data and telecommunications industry, standards bodies, policy and regulatory institutions, and academic educators and researchers to promote an open exchange of ideas to lead future development in the rapidly changing field of real-time communications.” – IIT RTC Site.
“Throughout the conference, I received multiple compliments from conference participants regarding the outstanding conference content, and the high quality of the speakers and presentations. From creating track abstracts, to assembling steering committee’s, recruiting speakers, organizing the content, and moderating the sessions, an awful lot of work goes into creating a successful event. The growing reputation of this conference within the industry is a reflection on an incredible team of track chairs who generously volunteer their time and expertise.” – by Warren Bent, Content Director at IIT Real Time Communications Conference.
This time last week I was presenting at IIT Real Time Communications Conference. I am very happy to share that both the panel discussion and that my presentation were well received. It is also worth noticing that the presentation’s subject was interesting enough to provoke a variety of reactions in the audience.
My recollection is that about 30 people gathered in the “Alumni Lounge” and I would like to thank everyone, as well as those who approached me to shake hands and furthered the discussion afterwards. Some voiced different opinions, which definitely contributed to the conversation. But, I would like to express that don’t see how fostering a “net-head vs. bell-head” approach answers some of the most pressing challenges before us. The work that many of us already do falls at the intersection between IT and Carrier technologies as well as business modeling wise: and that was my talk’s driving narrative.
I am also glad about having worked with Dennis Goodhart, Principal and Founder of IP Network Consulting, as a Co-Chair of the Cloud Track. There also is a need for highlighting Carol David’s leadership and Warren Bent’s dedication and organizational skills, who are this conference’s Chairman and Content Director respectively. This is my third IIT RTC Conference and I look forward to being back next year.
I joined a panel discussion with Vonage’s Alan Bugos, Vice President of Technology and Tropo’s Frank Geck, Director of Sales. Our session was moderated by Eric Krapf, Editor at TechWeb. My main contribution to this conference was covering the value of the carrier cloud in the RTC, Real Time Communications, ecosystem, this being a new paradigm where cloud and communication networks intersect in everyone’s best interest.
What follows is just a collection of random thoughts and is not necessarily a recap of my talk. Some of these come from my other conversations at the conference.
I am also adding a few of my charts. I personally enjoy looking into visualization techniques that display relevant information in clearly structured ways. Visual facilitation should help better communicate and spur others’ imagination. The goal is not just to push a set of messages in one direction but to make it a two way street by prompting even richer thoughts, which this conference is all about.
Innovating in the cloud age.
We are now innovating at the intersection between the cloud and network systems and creating something new and, interestingly enough, disruptive as a result. This brave new world is characterized by dramatically improved economics, accelerated changes and innovativeness based on (a) co-creation projects with customers worldwide, (b) partnering with other vendors, which also includes coopetion involving otherwise competitors, as well as (c) actively contributing to thriving industry groups whether related to standard bodies or thriving open source communities.
No single player can go alone in the cloud age because the value of the whole is definitely greater than the mere addition of its parts. Moreover, worthy ideas can come from anywhere. This is a space where critical mass is increasing with velocity. Making inroads in the fast emerging carrier cloud space entails an industry wide effort and cross-pollinating across IT and Carrier domains. While individual contributions will certainly make a difference, it takes multi-disciplinary teams and business ecosystems to make things happen in today’s day and age.
Human Factors Engineering.
In practical terms, this is about quite tangible next generation architectures: solutions improving the financial and operational performance of the overall service delivery environment and, most importantly, significantly better user experiences.
These are experiences that span development, operations, compliance, marketing, procurement,…, and last but not least a forefront of end users in consumer, enterprise verticals and the pubic sector. The carrier cloud’s use cases transcend the underlying portfolio of technologies and give meaning and sense of direction for what we are doing.
Equally relevant is addressing what users need not to wrestle with because we can do a better job at abstracting out complexity, streamlining workflows and automating processes and policies. Precisely so, addressing human factors engineering is a critical success factor. Just as an example, a DevOps’ reality check on human latency, manual labor and mutually depended processes makes this principle quite clear.
The new “lean & fit” telco.
Carrying on with a traditional silo by silo implementation approach defeats the purpose. Deploying vertically integrated stacks in black boxes typically engineered by just a single vendor is not favored either. Technical prowess alone will not win the day: modular architectures, dynamic ecosystems forming sustainable value chains are of the essence. The new industry’s DNA optimizes for innovativeness and unprecedented efficiencies.
The new telco should strive to be both “lean” and “fit” for service. “Lean” practices are not just meant for start-ups. Incumbents in the telecommunications space can also boost the bottom line under business and operational models that are proven to be more responsive, dynamic and quicker to right scale, growing and degrowing with the demand curves. Our industry also needs to be “fit” for service to deliver on Service Level Agreements and overall carrier grade reliability at the end of the day. Once again, the answer relies on innovating a the intersection.
Raising above infrastructure to set a new vantage point.
We need a new breed of platforms where rigidity is not the default answer to robustness and reliability. Future proofing requires the kind of automation and on demand scalability that’s subject to programmability and, therefore, continuous improvement.
We also need to be in constant motion so that service delivery can create and adapt to market demand, changing loads, contingencies as well as conditions set by any given lifecycle. And all of that needs to take effect with no downtime. This also has to do with policies, predictive analytics and a level of intelligence, machine learning in this case, which yields business intelligence coupled with self-organizing systems orchestrating the kind of large distributed environments that leading telcos operate.
We are acting on a model where applications are context aware engines that drive networking behaviors, all intervolved by cloud computing’s effectiveness. This is a new space where conventional instruments and network elements are superseded by software defined assets. Hence, carrier cloud applications themselves become applications known as VNFs, which stands for Virtual Network Functions. By the way, this goes far beyond “virtualization” in spite of its early naming as NFV, network functions virtualization. This new software defined environment rises above conventional infrastructures.
Deconstructing the stack.
As discussed in my talk, we are first decoupling control and data planes, which better enables virtualizalized solutions capitalizing on COTS, commercial off the shelf hardware and software. In other words, many functions and traffic do no longer have to strictly live together in the same physical network gear. By the same token, that one box might not need to be purposely engineered to that specific end at all. This results in supply chain commoditization lowering both cost and barriers to innovate. We also need to consider the fact that one size does not always fit all. There always is a need for understanding any existing trade-offs between performance and cost, as well as architectural options.
We are deconstructing the stack in the process and coming out at the other end with the coupling NFV with SDN, software defined networking. SDN focuses on optimizing traffic, and overall network behavior, network control as a result. I don’t mean to oversimplify and would like to write other posts to expand upon this means. The rationale behind the growing interest in engineering next generation SDPs, Service Delivery Platforms, and OSS, Operations Support Systems, in the digital communications industry has to do with connecting dots: delivering a pool of shared and fully automated network resources across the board as an example. A PaaS, platform as a service, model is best comprised of a modular and open solution stack. In some cases, open means “open source” while in many other it translates into “extensible” also thanks to APIs, application programmable interfaces, that expose available resources as needed.
Service Level Agreements make all the difference.
We have seen how low cost cloud providers have prioritized affordability and successfully addressed underserved markets. Still, there are well known cases where that was done at expense of adequate service levels that the more demanding and mission critical systems require.
That helps explain why many enterprises thought of building out their own “private” clouds to best serve their corporate interests. In these private clouds multi-tenancy is about supporting a portfolio of corporate applications and services that transcend business unit domains and functional areas. In this case, the tenants are internal customers, in-house teams and their information and communication technologies. However, this also means that the enterprise is not fully leveraging all of the cost efficiencies in terms of opex and capex that basic cloud economics bring to the table. The carrier cloud showcases private and public angles. The former refers to the network operators’ own systems, which are largely leveraged by in-house teams, contractors and partners. The latter is about cloud services offered to the development community and addressable markets.
As far as real time, mashups and unified communications are concerned, developers working on multimedia services (voice, video, data) with QoS, Quality of Service, would not need to replicate available assets and processes and, most importantly, can also take advantage of the right SLA, Service Level Agreements. Note that this is a key carrier cloud differentiator when compared to low cost cloud services given the fact that cloud and WAN resources can be orchestrated as an end to end system. Specially so when they happen to be intertwined in a software defined environment. Moreover, the rollout of VoLTE, Voice over LTE, with high definition voice, is supported by IMS, IP Multimedia Subsystem deployments. From a carrier cloud perspective, this becomes a platform of virtual network functions that scale on demand and can be leveraged by applications in the real time communications space.
This is also why network operators and OTT, over the top, service providers can work together where common interests intersect. This new play makes business models such as wholesale and MVNO, mobile virtual network operator, a new lease in life. By the same token, enterprises and media outlets thinking of building private clouds are now presented with an alternative end-to-end option (bundled cloud and network services) that is engineered to meet performance, security and control requirements. That should be offered as a cost efficient solution compared to a private cloud build out.
Thanks again and I will welcome any opportunities to continue our discussions and further explore these opportunities. Hope that if you made it to this year’s IIT Real Time Communications Conference you had a good time too.