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Telcos drive cloud through open networks

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Kathy Gibson reports from SATNAC in George – The telecommunications sector is facing a lot of challenges as it battles with additional traffic coupled with declining revenues.
At the same time, Internet companies are bringing new products to market and tapping into new revenue streams – but telcos are not able to take advantage of these opportunities.
“This makes us not really competitive in this new Internet world,” says Axel Clauberg, vice-president: IP and optical at Deutsche Telekom. “it is clear that we have to change.”
Telcos need to become software-defined operators, he says.
“The first thing we need to do is clean up the network – and it is something we have to do quickly. If we continue to build networks the same way we have done in the past, we will fail.
“We also need to work to a new production scheme. We need to look at technologies like Internet of Things and how they can support the way we provide services to our customers. This means building specific cloud operations,” he adds.
“The third element is a new approach to how we manage our networks. The traditional management and support systems are too complex and don’t allow us to move quickly so inspired by software defined networking we have come up with a new approach.
“These elements allow us to change the way we work,” Clauberg says. “Trimming infrastructure costs, and being more innovative allows us to move faster to higher bandwidth.”
Simplifying the network is a difficult task because there are so may protocols, and people, responsible for the various layers in the network.
“But all of the traffic in our networks today is IP, so should we focus on the others? And should we worry about IPv4 or focus on IPv6?”
Clauberg says DT has challenged all of the protocols in the network and decided that most of them are not required.
“So we developed a new architecture, integrating the optical transmission in the routers.
“Likewise, we looked into the home of our customers because we don’t believe optimisation should stop just before the home, because not everyone is blessed with a CTO at home who can manage the network – this needs to be fully automated.”
Moving forward, DT will build all its networks this way, with the first full rollout in 2018
“The thinking was to make the network simpler, and to make the router simpler, while still providing services.”
To do this, DT took technology from the cloud world and used it in the network to create an infrastructure cloud. Clauberg calls this network function cloudification, highly optimised to deliver traffic to the network and services to customers.
An important question that DT had to ask when deploying this infrastructure was whether to rely on a single vendor. Since it didn’t want to be dependent on vendors, the telco decided to go with OpenStack throughout.
“This was the starting point of a journey in the telco industry,” Clauberg says. “It was important to get other operators behind idea.”
Today, DT can build a complex and diverse infrastructure that is tailor-made for the needs of each country in which it operates, with back-end control looking after security, and front-end systems ensuring delivery of services.
Some of the lessons learned, Clauberg adds, include the fact that changing the network and service delivery model are not easy.
“The technology is not the most difficult, changing culture and skills is more difficult.”
Moving to agile is also more tricky than it sounds, he says. “If you are not able to achieve full automation as a result of agile, you have failed. You have to push that through. It requires the proper skills.”
DT partnered with the Sorbonne University to find out how a telco could become an attractive employer. “Telcos also have to change the way they work internally to become attractive.”
Technological challenges include scalability of the networking and virtualisation layers. This was also difficult to overcome, but innovative solutions such as user containers instead of virtual machines helped.
“We also found that most people look first at orchestration. But this is the most complex task of all, and if you try to solve this first you will fail because you will never get it into operation.” Lifecycle management was a more pressing requirement.
This enabled the development of multiple delivery cycles, with a lifecycle and release flow that automated the testing of hardware, software and services.
The Open Compute Project, developed by Facebook in 2011, aimed at bringing the open source mindset to the hardware world in a community-driven project. “The hardware manufacturers jumped on there, on this new way of building servers, and this was an extremely successful transformation that occurred in this industry.”
The major telcos joined the OCP in January 2016 with the idea of applying the same mindset of the whole telco infrastructure. This led to the Telecom Infra Project, which aims to open up the whole network and brings it out of the control of suppliers.
“Disruptive innovation in this industry has been limited in the last few years,” Clauberg says. “But we need disruption; we need a new approach that looks at the customers, the user of the technology, rather than the suppliers.”