Thursday, July 9, 2015

Blueprint: The Future Is Looking up for Telco Cloud

by Sandro Tavares, Head of Telco Cloud Business Development, Nokia Networks

If there’s one thing the telco industry has experienced over the last decade and a half, it’s been a constant march of progress. While there have been a variety of technological challenges to overcome, we’ve seen the development of ever faster networks, better performance despite an exponential increase in traffic, and a constant stream of innovative new features and services for end users. But despite all these wins, there is still a significant step the industry has to take sooner or later to continue providing the best service: fully embracing cloud technologies.

IT Cloud vs. Telco Cloud

The IT industry has already been realizing the benefits of the cloud for more than a decade, experiencing reduced costs and more dynamic networks with data center consolidation and virtualized functions. The flexibility of the cloud also enables a tight innovation cycle, allowing IT and Internet providers to experiment with a wide variety of projects, and try new things until they find success. A cloud infrastructure enables them to easily shift resources to new projects for maximum efficiency.

Telcos, however, still have to deal with a set of discrete infrastructures for each project in development, prolonging the innovation cycle from weeks to months and limiting their options. Each project has to be carefully evaluated and almost guaranteed to be a success, which limits their capability to innovate.

Looking at the operational model, IT cloud in general is very centralized, and providers typically operate a few enormous data centers that may be far from most of the users. These IT data centers can be placed strategically for cost savings; they might be in the far north to save on cooling costs, for example, or they may even be located in a rural area so as to save on the cost of the property itself. The location is irrelevant, so long as they provide the services users need.

The flip side to the IT model of the cloud is that there is a higher latency involved as data travels hundreds or thousands of miles for everyday transactions. Most IT applications, like e-commerce for example, may accept a delay of a few seconds as there are no impacts on how they work and their customers are accustomed to it. But that kind of delay in telecommunications makes a network unusable and would likely spell the death of the operator. As a result, the telco cloud will require a greater number of smaller data centers located closer to the traffic. These centers may even be so small that they consist of only a single rack of servers, and they may be so close together that data remains within a single city or even a neighborhood. This minimizes latency, and it also addresses the issue of traffic volume. Telco network functions may utilize far larger amounts of data than most IT applications; data that would choke a network backbone and incur enormous costs when traveling across a country.

The Current State of Telco Cloud

We have already seen some important strides toward telco cloud adoption with network function virtualization (NFV). NFV is the technology that allows a variety of telco network elements to be hosted on a cloud environment. This enables operators to quickly scale services and apps to meet fluctuating demand. Openness also plays a big role in NFV, promoting interoperability across vendors and eliminating dependency between hardware and software. By taking the leap towards telco cloud/NFV, operators will implement more open solutions into their networks, becoming more flexible, reducing costs and increasing their choice of vendors to better meet their needs.

As more of the network functions are virtualized, operators will see improved network performance and will have the ability to provide a more advanced and attractive portfolio of services. The direct impact of this is a potential reduction of customer churn, which is a key benefit for the industry.

Advancing into Telco Cloud Management

Automation and cloud management play a significant role in the industry’s journey to telco cloud. Already important now, they will become even more critical as more network functions go to the cloud, including baseband radio. As the different apps, nodes and other network functions are offloaded to cloud-based resources, maintaining real-time visibility and simultaneously managing cloud and traditional environments can become a challenge for operators. This is where the next generation of operations support systems (OSS) will be vital. Cloud-enabled OSS systems will provide visibility and management functions for both cloud and traditional network elements, allowing a consolidated view and delivering troubleshooting capabilities across both domains.

To continue advancing and achieve the level of automation necessary for success, the industry has to move towards implementing standards for multi-vendor and cloud-stack agnostic network orchestration. This enables integration with the multiple virtualized network function managers that will be active in the cloud and centralize the decision related to resource assignment, disaster recovery, etc. Without an open orchestration layer, the industry could in practice be back to the old monolithic approach, which is counterproductive to goals.

The end goal of the telco cloud is simply that the customer pushes a button and the phone on the other end starts ringing, or the video starts streaming immediately. While that goal has been constant for more than a century, telco providers are offering so much more than users could have dreamed of just a few decades ago. By making the cloud a reality, operators have a unique opportunity to optimize their operations, reduce operational costs and position themselves for the next leap forward in technology as we begin laying the groundwork for 5G.

About the Author

Sandro Tavares has more than 14 years of international experience in the telecoms industry, holding positions in sales and marketing, and participating in industry breakthroughs such as the launch of the One Voice Initiative for VoLTE.

 He has worked with the Nokia family of companies for more than 10 years, and currently is Head of Telco Cloud Business Development for Nokia Networks. Previously, he served as Head of Mobile Core Marketing, overseeing strategic and product marketing activities for the company’s Mobile Core portfolio. His topics of coverage included Telco Cloud, Content Delivery Networks and Customer Experience Management.

Sandro holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Universidade de Brasilia, a corporate MBA from Fundacao Dom Cabral and a post-MBA from Northwestern University – Kellogg School of Management.

About Nokia Networks

okia Networks, which provides broadband infrastructure, software and services, operates at the forefront of our industry. From the first ever call on GSM to the first call on LTE, we have set the pace of innovation, a record that continues with future technologies such as 5G. Together with our operator customers, who serve close to 5 billion subscribers, we are embracing the opportunity of the connected world and helping to solve its challenges.